Thank you, Fred Stewart

09 Nov 2017 | 03:14

Longtime firefighter Alfred "Fred" Stewart's death in 2016 was a loss, says John Davis in a remembrance, not only to his family and friends, but to the "entire town."
Stewart died last November while working in his beloved firehouse, West Milford Volunteer Fire Company #1. He was 79.
Stewart joined the fire company in 1964. He rose through the ranks, becoming a lieutenant in 1968, deputy chief in 1970, assistant chief in 1971 and chief in 1974, a role in which he served eight times.
Stewart was posthumously honored earlier this year as the 2016 Mary B. Haase Lifetime Volunteer Award winner.
This is a reprint of Davis' remembrance, which was submitted as a letter to the editor last fall:
Remembering Fred StewartNot many would consider the passing of a 79-year-old man as a tragedy but then they didn’t know Fred Stewart. Fred’s sudden passing on Nov. 6 (2016) was a major loss to not only his family and friends but for this entire town. He was so full of life that his absence leaves us both shocked and empty. Fred was such a big part of West Milford and so active in the community that suddenly nothing seems the same without him. Since that tragic day I find myself thinking so much about how he died when I should instead be focusing on how he lived. The following is a story about Fred that to me represents everything I loved and admired about him and I would like to share it with you.
It was about 5 years ago when Fred, his wife Linda, my wife and I were dining at Il Laghetto restaurant on Greenwood Lake. After we finished dinner we noticed smoke coming down from the ceiling in the dining room and that the restaurant was on fire! Who better to be eating with when a fire breaks out than Fred? The wait staff calmly announced the emergency and asked us to leave immediately. We all left the restaurant gawking at the large flames shooting out from the roof. Except for Fred.
I watched as Fred asked one of the busboys to get him all of the fire extinguishers and then I followed him up to the 2nd floor where the fire was. I pleaded with Fred to leave but instead he grabbed a fire extinguisher, dropped to the ground and crawled on his stomach entering the smoke-filled room. He hadn’t crawled 5 feet when he completely disappeared into the thick black smoke. The minutes I waited for him to come back out seemed like an eternity.
Finally he crawled back out, grabbed another fire extinguisher and crawled right back in. Again I pleaded for him to leave with me. There was no one left inside and the fire department was already on their way. One of the tenants also mentioned that there may be propane tanks in the room too. Great. Again I waited nervously for Fred to return. Finally he came back out and said that the mattress was on fire and that he kept putting it out but it kept flaming back up even after emptying 2 fire extinguishers on it. He then grabbed the 3rd fire extinguisher and again I watched him disappear into the darkness.
But this time was different. He seemed to be gone much longer than the previous two times. Finally the Greenwood Lake Fire Department arrived and they told me I needed to get back.
“But my friend is in there!” I said. ‘My friend is in there!”
I walked down to the street to join the others and kept my sights on the door waiting for Fred to come back out. ‘Come on Fred, come on Fred’, I kept thinking. Finally he came out and I breathed a sigh of relief. He talked to the fire chief and his men telling them what he knew about the fire and stayed until they put it out.
Afterwards we all went to Uncorked to decompress and have a drink. We reeked of smoke and I was still shaken from the incident. Someone said something about there being a fire at a restaurant on the lake.
“Yea”, we answered. “We just came from it.”
We talked amongst ourselves and realized we never paid the bill! “Well,” we reasoned. “When you’re running out of a burning restaurant at least they don’t expect you to pay.” The laughter felt good and I started feeling better.
As we had our drink I told Fred how nervous I was watching him go in and out of that fire, especially the 3rd time when I thought I may have lost him. I was really scared, I admitted to him.
“Were you scared, Fred?” I asked.
He turned to me with the biggest smile on his face and said “John, I LOOOVED it!”
I can see that he did too. He looked so happy and full of life at that moment, explaining to us every detail of the incident and how his training prepared him for every step. That is the Fred Stewart I choose to remember now.
Fred Steward was the consummate fireman…man…friend… husband…father…grandfather and he was my hero and best friend. He was both a man’s man having a cigar and port wine with you but could easily choke up in retelling a sad story. He did everything he wanted to do and lived life to the fullest. At 79, he had more life in him than anyone I know. He would be angry at all of our tears. I can picture him scolding me, “John, quit your blubbering ok. I’m fine.” I know Fred…but I will miss you forever. Sleep sweet my friend and hold a corner barstool for me until I join you…