Chief's death shocks town
'Schaefer, 52, died of heart attack on duty'
Hopkinton fire Chief Richard Schaefer died Sunday after suffering a heart attack while on duty.
The 52-year-old grew up in Hopkinton and spent 33 years working for the town's fire department. Schaefer was working a busy shift during the Hopkinton State Fair on Sunday evening, according to a press release from his department. The Hopkinton ambulance squad transported him to Concord Hospital, where he had a heart attack.
"His sudden death has left his fire family and friends in shock," the fire department said in a statement.
Schaefer joined the Hopkinton Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter in 1979, according to the release. He became deputy chief in 1991 and was promoted to fire chief in 1999. The fire chief position became full-time in 2009.
Friends and town officials described Schaefer as genuine, hardworking and dedicated to his job.
On the Fourth of July this year, Schaefer called Selectman Jim O'Brien because he wanted the town to reach out to a resident he had visited on an emergency call. The person needed extra help, O'Brien said, and even on a holiday, Schaefer's first concern was helping a resident in need.
"It was sort of how Rick was - he was going over and above," O'Brien said. "He always went over and above, so the town is really losing someone special."
Fire officials spent yesterday meeting with Schaefer's family at the town's fire station. Former firefighters and fire officials from other towns also gathered at the station, including former Hopkinton fire chief Peter Russell, who said "it's good to just have that friendship" to help one another through the loss.
"I think the fire service is something that if you're not in it, you might not understand it," Russell said. "But it really is a phenomenal brotherhood that goes along with that aspect of firefighting."
Russell, who preceded Schaefer as fire chief, said Schaefer always had a desire to lead the Hopkinton Fire Department.
"Actually, my goal was to grow Rick to be chief when I was chief so that when I left the town would be in good hands, and it certainly was," Russell said.
While Schaefer loved his job, he also loved being a husband, father and grandfather, Russell said. Schaefer and his wife, Kathy, met in high school. They have two sons, a daughter and a granddaughter.
"I think he dedicated his life to his family," Russell said. "That was a big part of his life. So as dedicated as he was, he wasn't afraid to go on vacation."
Selectman George Langwasser said Schaefer's death was a shock to the town. He spent time Sunday night at the fire station, where he said Schaefer's colleagues were in disbelief. They had seen the chief at work that day, and he did not have any known medical condition.
Langwasser remembered Schaefer as a hardworking fire chief.
"I think Rick was intense from the standpoint of . . . when he had something to do for the fire department, it got done and he was just driven to complete that," Langwasser said. "And I can tell you that the town is going to sorely miss him."
Janet Krzyzaniak of Hopkinton said Schaefer "was like one of my own children." Her husband, Tom, is a former Hopkinton fire chief who worked with Schaefer at the Hopkinton fire department for many years.
"He always felt that Rick was a very steady and calm hand in any situation," she said. "The firefighters always trusted him and felt safe under his leadership. He was a good leader and an example for all."
Krzyzaniak said she enjoyed watching Schaefer grow up; she remembered attending his wedding, watching him become a father and eventually seeing him lead the fire department.
"He always gave more than 100 percent of anything he tackled. Whether it was planning a trip for his family or something to do with the fire department or an issue in the community that he got involved in," she said.
The Krzyzaniaks' daughter, Pam Cater of Manchester, attended Hopkinton High School with Schaefer. She said Schaefer always wanted to be an EMT or a firefighter.
"If you tried to call him a hero or tried to say he was special because he was a firefighter he would be the first one to say 'no, no, no'," Carter said. "But he was that. He was unique and he was very dedicated to the town."
Schaefer's wife, Kathy, grew up in Webster and the couple met during high school, Carter said. Schaefer joined the fire department shortly after graduating from Hopkinton High School.
Schaefer worked as facilities director for the Hopkinton School District before quitting in 2009 when the town made the fire chief position a full-time job.
As fire chief, Schaefer was known in town for his longtime goal of building a new fire station - a desire he'd talked about since becoming chief in 1999. O'Brien, chairman of the board of selectmen, said Schaefer was "a very strong advocate" for a new fire station, insisting that the existing facility is small and outdated.
"He's been working for years on ideas and plans, knowing that the station that he has been inadequate," O'Brien said. "And he hasn't been shy about bringing that forward and fighting for the firefighters in town."
His ideas gained support this year, when voters at town meeting approved $15,000 to study building a new station.
The town recently hired an architect to begin that process. While Schaefer's death "throws a wrinkle at us," Langwasser said, he knows other firefighters will step in to help, both with designs for a new station and in the daily operations of the fire department.
"This town is amazingly resilient, and we take care of our own," Langwasser said.
Deputy fire chiefs Jeffery Yale and Doug Mumford are now leading the Hopkinton Fire Department. They were not available for comment yesterday, as they spent the day making arrangements with Schaefer's family and other firefighters.
(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)