More than 50 years ago, former Assistant Chief James Robert Stevens Jr., better known as Bob Stevens Jr., knew he was going to be a firefighter.
Following in the steps of both his father and grandfather, the 63-year-old Spring Grove resident began his career at the Richmond Fire Department in 1969. Stevens later relocated to the Spring Grove Fire Protection District, where, over 35 years, he’s held every rank except deputy chief and chief.
Having recently retired after 45 years, Stevens sat down with reporter Allison Goodrich to discuss the many changes within the firefighting business, some invaluable lessons he learned on the job, and his plans for the future.
Goodrich: At what point in your life did you know you were going be a firefighter?
Stevens: Probably as soon as I saw a fire truck for the first time, so maybe 5 or 6 years old. It’s hard to remember, but we were always welcome in the firehouse as kids.
Goodrich: Having started in 1969, what are some of the changes you’ve seen in firefighting?
Stevens: A lot. Things have become more modern now. Calls are dispatched out of the county. When I started, they didn’t actually dispatch. It was a calling tree. ... And the equipment has changed. When I started, you wore a rubber coat and three-quarter boots. Now, you have state-of-the-art bunker gear.
Also, you could still ride the tailboard of a truck. Not anymore. It’s too dangerous.
Goodrich: Do you still remember your first major call?
Stevens: You always remember your first bad call. Mine was actually the day after I got on the department. It was a fatal traffic accident. Fella in the car wasn’t much older than I was and he had just gotten his first teaching job at the school and was coming in for orientation and stuff. He lost control of his car and hit a tree.
You’ve got to remember, I’ve probably been on thousands of calls in my career and you’ll have some that stick out and some you wish didn’t stick out.
Goodrich: Any in particular that you’re glad stick out?
Stevens: Well, you learn from every one of them. I’ve been on six or seven fatal fires in my career and that’s a lot for a small town. But when you’ve been on for this long, you’re going to experience that.
Goodrich: There must be some pretty startling lessons learned in this field.
Stevens: There are. I mean, you learn to be a little safer in some things you do. You’re not one of the crazy ones out there blowing off fireworks on Fourth of July because you’ve seen people have body parts blown away.
Maybe you drive a little safer – not as fast.
You learn a lot. Firefighting is a science of alternatives. You’ve got to be able to think and act quickly in the situation around you.
We try to teach that here in our explorer program, and I’m still involved with that.
Plus, I also want to help the chief develop a cadet program.
Goodrich: So you’ll still be involved with the department? What are you planning for any new free time?
Stevens: I only retired from answering calls. You never really get out of the fire service.
So I’ll stay involved, but I also take care of two parks in the village, mowing the grass and pulling the weeds.
Goodrich: Five years from now, what do you see for yourself?
Stevens: Travel. Everywhere and anywhere. My wife is going to work for one more year ... then we’re going to travel.
What I’d like to do is a 23-day riverboat trip through Europe and maybe through the Canadian Rockies. Yeah, I’d like to go there and maybe Alaska, too.
The Bob Stevens Jr. Lowdown
Hometown: Spring Grove
Family: Wife of 43 years, Joy; one son, Chris Stevens, and his wife, Natalie.
Favorite food: Steak
Favorite musical artist: Jason Aldean
Favorite hobby: Sprint car racing with his family