Remembering the late fire chief

To the Editor:

Family, friends and town officials had a touching and dignified service last week for Fairfield Fire Chief David W. Russell Jr. Like others attending, a flood of cherished memories came back to me.

To all, we Southport Village kids growing up in the late 30s through early 50s, Dave was simply known as “Russ.”

First, he was one of the neighborhood gang who would come by our home on Harbor Road expecting the treats my mother, Ethel, would provide. Most often with my first cousin, Tim Skinner, they all loved to hang out with “Auntie Eth,” sipping her bottles of Pal Orange Drink, while listening to “The Shadow” and “Tom Mix” over her console radio.

Later, as a young teen, he enlisted in the Navy and then came home to begin his career as a member of the Southport Volunteer Fire Department.

Forever etched in my mind was one day around 1949 when my mother encountered a rat in the attic, one of those brazen Norway rodents that lived in the harbor seawalls and occasionally invaded houses in the vicinity. A single mom she was then, and, what to do with the beast she caught alive in the door jamb, leaving her terrified.

She called the fire department which handled these things in those days before town Animal Control. Who should answer her call but Russ.  “Now, Auntie Eth,” he reassured with his Emerald Isle wink and grin, “don’t you worry, let me handle this.” He quickly donned his turn out gloves, grabbed the rat by its tail with one hand and instantly dispatched it with a massive slug with the other. Thereby, early on, he was endeared to her and our clan forever.

A lifetime away later and in retirement, I was together again with Dave two years ago, when we were therapy classmates in the rehab room of the Carolton Hospital. We were both pushing hard to get back on our feet from serious illness and out of there to our homes. While the nurses put us through our paces, we traded sea stories as two Navy vets — him in sub chasers during World War II and me as a Vietnam carrier crewman.

One day, I noticed the chief was not quite on his game with the exercises.  His toughness was flagging a bit and his nurse was a little surprised. I felt I had to lend encouragement. Summoning my old hanger bay voice, I shouted, “Hey Russ! Damn it! C’mon sailor, give it hell!” He bolted in his wheelchair, winked his thanks and plunged anew into the program.

In every way, Dave was determined to serve, motivated to lead, all part of his unrelenting devotion to the nation, state and the town. How fortunate we’ve been all these years, witnessing his kindness and being made secure by his steadfast public duty. His sense of loyalty and constancy took their own measure, setting the bar high for all to seek. He  knew it, lived it and left a standard for everyone. Hail and farewell to the chief. Fair winds and following seas for a fellow Navy man.

 

David K. Sturges

LCDR, USNR, Ret.

Fairfield

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