Whidbey's Mr. Fire retires

Stan Anderson used his imagination for fires and rescues


Staff reporter

Coupeville dentist Stan Anderson says he has lived, and is still living, “a kid’s life.”

He certainly has a child-like enthusiasm for all the different endeavors and hobbies he’s been involved in, from fighting fires to flying airplanes to playing with his computer.

Perhaps it is this level of enthusiasm that has sustained him through more than 37 years as a volunteer firefighter with Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue. Anderson finally gave in and retired — most of the way — because of ongoing problems with a foot he broke during a training exercise.

Central Whidbey Chief Joe Biller calls Anderson a “endangered species” since it’s rare for a volunteer firefighter nowadays to stay in for more than five or 10 years.

Whidbey Island firefighters recently threw Anderson a retirement party. Such high-profile people as Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, state Fire Marshal Mary Corso, retired Fire Marshal Dick Small, Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard and firefighters from all over the state shared their memories of Anderson. His son, Oak Harbor Fire Lt. Craig Anderson, was the master of ceremonies.

“I was fortunate that I got to grow up with the person I consider my hero,” Craig said. “He’s the person I consider my idol.”

Craig says that most people in the community, even those who know his father well, aren’t aware of impressive amount of volunteer work Anderson has done.

“The legacy I see for him,” Craig said, “is that he’ll never know how many people he’s impacted or touched.”

Anderson has held every position at Central Whidbey, except chief. He’s been an instructor for fire training, EMT and fire responders. He founded the innovative high school firefighter program at Coupeville High School in 1982, which was the first such program in the state.

Anderson served as a fire commissioner in Central Whidbey for nine years. He was on both the state Fire Protection Policy Board and on each Fire Technical Advisory Group for years. He wrote much of the state standards for firefighter certification and has served as a senior evaluator.

He helped set up the Island Recruit Academy for firefighters. He completed the pounds of paperwork needed to get the academy state accredited. He and his son have been instructors at state and national firefighter conferences.

Biller says he always joked that Anderson is a “part-time dentist and a full-time firefighter.” Anderson has been known to leave patients in the chair and rush off to emergencies. In fact, sometimes the patient was a fellow firefighter and they left together.

Biller says Anderson’s family, especially his wife Kathleen, deserve just as much credit. “It’s a lot of work,” he said. “There need to be a significant amount of family commitment to be able to do this.”

While the list of Anderson’s involvement in firefighting goes on and on, there are other sides to the Coupeville dentist.

“I used to kid,” he said, “if you have a uniform, I’ll join.”

Indeed, Anderson was in the Navy, as a dentist, for two years of active duty and 26 years in the reserves. At the same time, he was one of the first people to volunteer with the Sheriff’s Office as a reserve deputy. He was also involved in the Boy Scouts.

In addition, he learned to be a pilot and has flown in his small plane — and his family — all over the nation. He was even on the Coupeville town council. Lately, the self-proclaimed “gadget junky” has been spending a lot of time with his three computers.

But most of all, it seems Anderson loves to talk about training firefighters, which was his job as a volunteer firefighter with Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue for many years, beginning back in the 1960s. He approached the job with a great deal of inventiveness and creativity, but always with an eye to realism.

“I love to create these monstrosities,” he says.

Working with others who share his sense of theatrics, Anderson has created training drills using broken-down cars, human actors, dummies, a great deal of fake blood and even real cow guts to make injuries look as real as possible. He’s shot holes in cars to make it look like a drive-by shooting occurred.

In one drill, Anderson eagerly explains, he set it up to look like a wooden post went through the windshield of a car and skewered the driver into his seat. The firefighters had to figure out how to remove the driver and then load him into the ambulance with a post sticking from his back and front.

The drill was so realistic, in fact, that a deputy saw the car full of blood and holes after the drill and nearly started a manhunt.

“They are meant to be thought-provoking,” he said, “but they are things that could really happen.” He also uses computer technology to create vivid images of burning local buildings, like the Roller Barn or Cenex, for training exercises.

Anderson is very proud of the rural fire district’s training center in Greenbank. He helped built moveable walls for the interior two-story training center so he can create different building lay-outs for each exercise. Inside the building are special protected areas where they can set fire to wood pallets and fill the things with smoke and heat.

Outside is an old rusted car and a dumpster that are hooked up to a propane tank for fiery drills. Down the hill is a swampy area that he sticks vehicles into for car accident drill.

“I’m a ‘type A’ kind of instructor,” Anderson said. “I like to find something and see what I can do with it. Turn me loose and let me play with it.”

With all that he was involved in, he somehow found time to raise two kids. The busy man always managed to let his family know that they “were always number one” with him, Craig says.

In fact, Anderson said the fire service may have helped him be a good parent. He started bringing Craig on fire calls since his son was five years old. He obviously passed on his desire to help others and feel what he calls “the adrenaline rush” of responding to an emergency. He speaks proudly of his son’s accomplishments in the world of firefighting, which he says rival his own.

The best thing about firefighting, Anderson says, is that it allowed him to have the kind of relationship he now has with his son.

“There’s not too many ways a father and son have been able to do this all along,” he said. “We’ve done so much together.”

Now that he’s retired, Anderson won’t exactly be bored. He’s still working at his dental office a few days a week. He’ll undoubtedly still be involved with Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue, at least in an unofficial role. He’s working on putting volumes of firefighter training ideas onto a Web site to share with training officers nationwide.

But there’s one thing he won’t miss about the firefighting life.

“At the end,“ he said, “getting up in the middle of the night wasn’t so fun.”

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