By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (July 15, 2016) — There comes a moment in life when even the toughest of men can’t stop the tears from falling.
For retiring Stephenville Fire Department Battalion Chief Jerry Powers, that moment came about 7:30 a.m. on Friday, July 15, 2016, at Fire Station No. 2. It came while surrounded by firefighters who answered the call to duty, as officers with SFD lowered the United States flag and Stephenville Fire Chief Jimmy Chew retired it into Powers’ care.
“I’ve always said to everybody, this is better than a real job because to me it’s never been a job,” said Powers, his eyes still watery from the brief ceremony. “If somebody has a problem, we’re the first ones there to try and help correct it. These guys (he points to other firefighters and officers) are just like brothers. I’ve spent a third of my life up here, so it’s tough.”
Powers was never one just to report to duty, handle his business and return home. He was always one to push for improvements, to find ways to better serve the people of Stephenville and Erath County.
“We’re going to miss Jerry. He was recently promoted to battalion chief, and that was very deserved after his many years of service,” said Chew. “He was one of our first three paramedics when we decided to go with the paramedic program. One guy wanted to be a paramedic and was pushing for it, and Jerry and another guy jumped right in. They were our first three paramedics.”
That is what Powers says he is most proud of from his long career protecting are residents.
“I saw that having paramedics was the way we needed to go, and my biggest reason for that was losing a friend of mine in a wreck back when we still ran the county. I always felt like there was more we could have done” Powers explained. “So me and a couple other guys got together and decided to push to be paramedics and make a bigger difference. We felt like the citizens of Stephenville and Erath County deserved that. They deserved the best we could provide.”
Years later, that’s exactly what Powers says SFD provides.
“The thing I’m most proud of is believing that anyone who encounters our paramedics for whatever reason, they get the very best care possible,” Powers said. “I would put our paramedics up against anyone. The growth and success of that program is something that’s very personal to me.”
Powers is quick to point out paramedics didn’t always have ambulances full of medical equipment.
“When we first started as paramedics, we actually still carried a little black leather doctor’s bag and an oxygen tank. There was stuff in those black bags we wouldn’t dare use any more with what we know now,” Powers said. “But if there was major trauma or a wreck, we had our bags, the oxygen and what looked like a big tackle box with the star of life on it. Those were our basic tools back then.”
Nowadays, of course, the city’s ambulance services are more like mobile medical emergency centers.
“Now we carry so much stuff in our ambulance and our paramedics are so skilled, we can do more now in the field than most ERs could do back then,” Powers said. “These guys save lives out there, and that’s something we can all be very proud of.”
Chew spent many hours working alongside Powers.
“When I was a shift commander and Jerry was on my shift, I probably spent more waking hours with Jerry than I did with my family,” said Chew. “We increased our department greatly with the ambulance service in 1975, so a lot of guys came on board in the 75-85 era, and they are starting to retire. When you work 30 years with someone like that, especially someone like Jerry, they become like a brother to you. He’ll always be my brother.”
And while Jerry will enjoy spending more time with his wife, Rhonda, and their children and grandchildren, he feels the same about Chew and his other firefighting and paramedic brethren.
“When I was promoted to battalion chief (about six months ago) they all thought I would stay another three years or so, but I’ve gotten older and there is stuff with my family and things that I want to do,” Powers said. “We spend a third of our lives up here. We’re here 24 hours at a pop, so we miss a lot of stuff. I have grandchildren now, so I don’t want to miss that. And I’ve already got orders from my wife to stop on the way home and get dog food, so I sure can’t miss that.”
The dog would have to wait a bit for its breakfast, though. Powers needed to make one more round, shake everyone’s hand, thank them for serving alongside him in a community he loves to call home.
“Jerry has asked me several times the last couple weeks when it would hit him that he’s retired. I just told him one morning he would wake up, start getting ready for work, then realize he doesn’t have to go to work any more, and that’s when it will hit him,” Chew said. “For me, I know sometime soon we’ll be in the heat of battle and someone will call for 611 out of habit, only he won’t be there. That’s when it will hit me.”
Powers can retire with the satisfaction of knowing he was a trailblazer in the Stephenville community, one who helped to usher in changes that saved lives, and will continue to do so long after his work is complete.
“It’s been one great ride,” Powers said, his eyes tearing up once more. “I’ve loved every bit of it and wouldn’t change a thing.”