Men in My Town

In Honor of Chief Ernie Hart

Posted in Men in My Town by Keith Smith on September 30, 2009

One of the Men in My Town died today – Chief Ernie Hart, Chief of the Fairlawn-Lincoln Fire Department.

Chief was a good man. He taught us how to lay a few hundred feet of 3 inch hose in the bed of a pumper and was insistent about us properly rolling the 50 feet of green garden hose that laid between the bay doors.

When he caught guys washing their own cars at the fire station, he made them painstakingly hand wash the old Ward La France pumper until it was spotless.

He took local boys who weren’t old enough to smoke and gave them the courage to walk into smoke-filled buildings.

I’m pretty sure he never coached a sport, but he was more of a coach than any I ever played for and better than all of them. He coached dozens of us, 16 year-old kids and 50 year-old men, to work together as a team.

He taught us to work side-by-side so we could roll out of the station with 3 men on a truck; one to drive, one to dress the hydrant and one to slip on a Scott Air Pack and enter buildings.

Men in My Town Pictures Firemen

He taught us the buddy-system; no one ever entered a burning building alone and it was up to each one of us to keep the other guy safe.

He was serious and professional on the scene of a fire and would entertain us with stories about drunks who fell asleep smoking and burnt their couch or the guy on Cobble Hill Road who put a garden hose in his chimney to put out a creosote fire in his fireplace.

When ten young women died in a dormitory fire during my freshman year at Providence College in 1977, Chief reached out to console me and my friends.

He was a friend to Duffy, Bones and Arthur; a mentor to me, David, Kevin, Tim, Greg and Russell; a husband to Barbara; and a father to Debbie, David, Brian, Bruce, Kevin, Craig and Maryann.

Fairlawn was a safer place because Ernie Hart was our Fire Department Chief.

Kids from Fairlawn grew up to be better men because Ernie Hart was their Chief.

My book, Men in My Town, is dedicated to ‘masked men and superhero’s, real and imagined.’  It’s dedicated to men in my town who enter burning buildings in life-offering, unselfish acts of bravery and kindness, real men, real-life heroes.  It’s dedicated to Chief Ernie Hart and the firemen who were lucky enough to stand by his side.

Rest in Peace, my Chief and Thank You.

Ernest J. Hart, Jr.  1927 – 2009

The story of the abduction, beating and rape of a teenage boy from Lincoln, Rhode Island, followed by the unsolved brutal murder of his assailant in Providence, is now a moving novel written by the man who survived this vicious attack.

Men in My Town by Keith Smith. Available now at

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