SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Deputy Chief John “Jack” Carney will serve as the grand marshal of this year’s South Kingstown Firefighters Memorial Parade on Sunday, Sept. 23, as he celebrates 51 years of service.
Carney joined the fire department when he was 16-years-old. Originally from Woonsocket, he moved to South County when he was 12 and his interest in the fire service began at a young age.
“I always had firefighting as an interest growing up,” he said. “I lived next door to a fire station…it’s just something that I like to do.”
He was the first in his family to become a firefighter and became deputy chief of the Union Fire District in 1982. Eventually, Carney’s son would also become a firefighter and work at the Forest Fire Station on Holley Street for 20 years, where the elder Carney began his career.
Carney’s passion for his job is evident. He never went to school to study fire science his only education is what he called “on the job training.”
“I enjoy doing it,” he said. “It’s something I think that people have to want to do, you can’t make anybody do this because there’s a lot to it.”
He mentioned the continuous changes in laws and training procedures that have occurred since he received his training.
“They’ve come up dramatically,” he said of the laws affecting the fire service. Carney pointed to Union Fire District’s training facility on Asa Pond Road as a quality place for aspiring firefighters to train.
“Up here we preach safety, safety, safety,” he said. “With this training facility, I think we do a good job with the younger people.”
Union Fire District even offers a junior program, which aspiring firefighters can join at age 16. At age 18, they are eligible to become full firefighters.
Today, Carney is glad for the technological advancements that have helped firefighting, despite his initial reluctance.
“I have changed with everything myself,” he said. “I was probably a little hard nosed in the beginning but you have to sit down and realize the change is for the better. It’s definitely [for the better] in the fire service…the equipment we use now, the apparatus we buy now, it meets what we’re doing.”
He recalled burning down old homes years ago or sending ladders up the silo of the local farmer as part of training.
“Years ago we’d have to beg, borrow and steal,” he said of how training was accomplished. “Now, we have a great training facility.”
In his years of service, Carney has dealt with tragedy and death. He noted the fire on Post Road this past May as one of the largest blazes he has seen recently. He mentioned the 2000 plane crash off Tuckertown Road as another.
Despite the sadness he’s seen, Carney still has his sense of humor, joking with those who walked by during the interview and thanking his family for putting up with the long hours.
“I’ve been here 51 years, but I have to give my family a lot of credit,” he said.
Carney noted he got his family involved in the department, his wife was one of ladies who started the auxiliary at the Forest Fire Station and his daughter later became involved.
“The whole family has had their fingers in the fire department,” he said. “A lot of missed meals, a lot of dirty clothes, that’s the nature of being a volunteer.”
As for Carney’s immediate future, he will be marching in the parade Sunday, with a couple of his grandchildren, but this time as the grand marshal. He said he was surprised to learn he was named grand marshal, saying they usually pick retired firefighters for the job.
“But I might be the oldest active firefighter right now,” he said.
As for the long-term future…
“I’ve been here 51 years, maybe they’ll get a couple more years out of me,” he said with a laugh.
The South Kingstown Firefighters Memorial Parade begins at 12 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23 at Firefighters Memorial Square at the intersection of Columbia Street and Kingstown Road. The parade begins at 1 p.m. and will march from the Peace Dale Fire Station on High Street to Main Street to Holley Street and end at the Forest Fire Station.
Several bands will march in the parade including: South Kingstown High School, Narragansett High School, Portuguese Independent of Bristol, Yankee Volunteers Fife and Drum of Seekonk, Mass., and the Mystic Highland Pipe Band of Mystic, Conn.