In baseball, Dick Hall was a very fine shortstop. That's according to Keene town Councilman Paul Martin.
"As Jock Whitney once said to me," he said, "and Jock was a great hitter back in the day, he paid Dick a great compliment. He said, 'Dick was a dandy.' Dick sure was a dandy, and Dick still is a dandy."
Much to his surprise, Dick Hall was being honored this past Monday night not for his youthful prowess, which included basketball and hockey, but for his 57 years as a volunteer fireman, 27 of those years as fire chief, 15 as fire police chief, and 40 years as a member of the Keene Valley Fire & Hose Company No. 1 Ambulance Squad. In addition, he served as a member of the Keene Town Council for 17 years, 20 years on the board of the Youth Commission, seven years as a member of the Keene Central School Board, 54 years as member of the Keene Valley Rod & Gun Club, and he has owed and operated a local grocery store for 44 years. On top of all that, his children and grandchildren serve as members of the fire department, with son Rusty Hall serving as the current fire chief.
Dick Hall is with others who have served as fire chief: Larry House, Ron Hall, and Tom Quinn.
Dick Hall is one of many in the North Country who have dedicated vast amounts of time serving our communities as volunteer firemen, a task that entails never-ending hours of training to stay current with the ever-increasing requirements. Added to that are the no-less-demanding prerequisites of serving as a member of the ambulance squad. That said, few could match the length, depth, and breadth of his service.
On Monday evening, in a firehall filled with fellow volunteers, his family, and a few close friends, Dick Hall was awarded the Outstanding Service Award in recognition and grateful appreciation of his decades of service, signed by Don Jaquish, head of Essex County Emergency Services and presented by Ron Konowitz, a member of the fire department. In addition, Assemblyman Stec read and presented a proclamation in Hall's honor signed by himself and New York State Sen. Betty Little.
"Dick has been a real mentor to me as a fireman for all these years," said Konowitz. "He has been a great person for me to talk to because he has so much experience. He has been at this game for 57 years and he has seen a lot. It is not easy being a fireman. There are a lot of different things that come up besides just the calls, and I want to thank him for all that."
Beth Pelkey shared a letter from Dick's son, current fire chief Rusty Hall, who wrote about his father as a source of inspiration, and as a person who served with grace and ability. In his letter, he shared a humorous story.
"Speaking of grace reminds me of the motor vehicle accident at the intersection of Trails End Road and Route 73. A car hit a telephone pole on a very busy hot summer day, and you responded from work at the grocery. I know that fact because you arrived with a very bloody butcher's apron. Although the patient was not seriously injured and quickly taken away by the able-bodied EMS squad, I wondered what the passersby must have imagined about the carnage at the scene as they gawked at the sight of you. I will never forget you standing there looking more like the patient."
Former fire chief Larry House, who joined the fire department the year Dick Hall became chief and eventually followed him in that position, shared an experience of handling fire that in lesser hands that could have engulfed a family's home.
"Sometime in 1980s, Dick and I had recently been to a training course and learned about backdrafts, what caused backdrafts, and how to deal with them and smoldering fire situations," House said. "One day we got a call about a fire at Pat Quinn's. We responded. We found there a classic backdraft situation. The windows were all smoked up and there was smoke puffing out from under the eaves. It was a bad situation. Dick and I looked the whole thing over, assessed the situation, and came up with a plan as to how we were going to fight it. We got everybody set up, executed the plan, and it worked. We got in and put the fire out with minimum damage to the house. We were pretty proud of that. It was right after that that Jeremy (Quinn) joined our fire department."
"I am thankful for having served under Dick Hall, for knowing Dick Hall, and for having been a member of the Keene Valley Fire Department for a lot of years with Dick Hall," continued House. "He was my mentor. Most of all, I am thankful for Dick Hall being a good friend all of these years."
"I am not a stranger to Keene, and I am not a stranger to what Keene Valley Fire Department has done for the community," Stec said. "Keene Valley has a lot to be proud of for the people in this room that have done so much as neighbor helping neighbor, rolling up your sleeves, and dropping everything when the chips are down. That's the hallmark of a fantastic community. Certainly any time you are looking at pressure situations that a community faces, you are looking more often than not at your emergency services and your fire companies. When you start looking at who is the glue in the fire company and you see these guys that have served 50-plus years, built a family, built the community, built a business - that's the top of the top. So I can think of no better place for me to be tonight than to come here and help recognize what Dick Hall has meant to this fire company and this community for all these years."
"I can remember as early as 7 years old sitting in the fire truck," said son and fireman Ronnie Hall. "I know that Dad loves this community and very much loves this department. He has always tried to be part of it, and thank God for it, and hopefully Brian has a bit of it. I am very proud of my dad."
"It was quite a surprise," said Dick Hall to me when to applause died down. "I thought I was coming here for something else."
"You mean they lied to you?" I said.
"Yes they did," Dick said.
"Fifty-seven years, what is it? Don't you know when to quit?"
"The problem is I don't know how to say no," Dick said. "That's the truth."
"I am glad you didn't. I think the whole town is glad you didn't know how to say no," I said.
"Considering tonight, I think that's true," Dick said.