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Chief steps down after 20 years

Outgoing Bentonville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Phil Stanley, left, receives a trophy inappreciation of his service from Chad Ripberger, the new chief, on Thursday.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

Firefighters are always on duty, even when they try to honor one of their own.

Just as new Bentonville Volunteer Fire Chief Chad Ripberger recalled the work of outgoing Chief Phil Stanley Thursday night at the department’s monthly meeting, a tone from 911 central dispatch went off, signalling a medical emergency.

Immediately, a medical crew, including Ripberger, headed to the rescue truck and headed out the door to help someone in need.

Before leaving for the run, Ripberger thanked Stanley for 20 years as chief and 45 years on the department.

There is more to the job than people realize, he said. The chief takes over at the scene. He has always been there, thanks to an employer who lets him off when possible. It is hard on his family with him being gone on runs. Stanley is mechanically inclined, so he worked on the trucks.

“When I think about Phil, I think his greatest asset is being calm and not getting excited at a fire scene,” Ripberger continued. “I’ve heard his voice change several times but he’s always calm and that’s the sign of good leader. He’s done a great job for the community.”

The department has contracts to provide fire protection services for townships. Stanley worked with township trustees on the contracts, he said. He knows them so he will continue to do that.

The department gave Stanley a trophy and a gift card to treat his wife Erin at a restaurant.

Stanley said there is not title without department members who have supported him throughout the years whenever he called for help.

Paul Ripberger, Chad’s father, served as chief for 15 years, with two chiefs between him and Stanley in about three years. Paul served as the assistant chief for Stanley’s 20 years.

Twenty years is several more than Stanley admitted to wanting to serve.

Someone reminded him he tried to retire as chief five years ago.

A lot of the reason for keeping the job is that no one else wanted to do it. But Stanley said it became a chance to meet people, make contacts and work with other departments.

He saw the department through the changes from Y2K, Jan. 1, 2000, and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that brought many new requirements to emergency responders.

When he first became chief, the job had more fun times but new regulations have made it more work and less fun, he said.

The training when he joined included 24 hours, mostly in-house, Chad said. Now there is formal training with testing. 

The department had four trucks when he joined and five trucks when he became chief, with the addition of a rescue truck.

The four trucks were all housed in the wooden barn that is still used today for other purposes. The department built a new fire station where the Bentonville School once sat.

“In the last 20 years, we’ve replaced four of the five trucks,” Stanley said. “We’ve been real fortunate to have the support of the township and the community. We’re not bad on equipment today, a lot better shape than some departments. Our biggest downfall is manpower.”

The number of runs has doubled in the 20 years as chief mainly because of medical calls, which now make up 80-85 percent of the runs, Stanley said. After 9/11, any time the Emergency Medical Services ambulance went to a call in their territory, so did the rescue truck.

While the number of members is about the same as before, people have jobs that do not allow them to leave for an emergency call, he said. It is difficult to get people for runs.

The changes in his 20 years also include getting older, moving slower and  having a different hair color, he said. Four or five members, including him, have gotten married since joining the department. The wives do not know anything other than emergency calls during family dinners or birthday parties. 

“My wife will be happy my phone doesn’t go off at night,” he said.

Stanley did not talk about memories of fires or rescues.

“Most everyone has their own memories but sometimes in this job, a good memory is a bad thing,” he said.