N.Y. city firefighter's retirement brings end to 100-year family tradition

Michael Stanley's ties with the Schenectady Fire Department go back to his great-grandfather, Edward Moffett, who enlisted in 1918


By Chad Arnold
The Daily Gazette

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Michael Stanley was a part of the Schenectady Fire Department long before he officially joined its ranks in 1999. Firefighting, in fact, has been a tradition in his family dating back more than 100 years.

Like many who answer the call to serve, the 47-year-old Stanley followed in the footsteps of his late father, Robert Stanley, who joined the department in the 1970s before retiring in the early 2000s as a deputy chief, capping off a 32-year career.

"From the youngest age, I can remember going to the Christmas parties and picnics," said Michael Stanley. "Everyone talks about the fire department being a brotherhood, but it's not just a brotherhood. All our families get together and enjoy each other, too. We've had that ever since I was a little kid."

Stanley's family ties with the department extend well beyond his father's service and can be traced back to his great-grandfather, Edward Moffett, who enlisted with the Schenectady Fire Department in 1918.

Edward Moffett had seven children, including James and George, who joined the Fire Department's ranks in 1944 and 1953, respectively, and spent a portion of their career working alongside their father, who retired as department's chief in 1960.

Both James and George Moffett had distinguished careers of their own, retiring as the department's assistant chief in 1984 and 1986, respectively.

Edward Moffett also had a daughter, Virginia Moffett, who married and had a son: Robert Stanley, who served alongside his uncles.

It was Robert Stanley who pushed Michael to join the department, continuing the family's firefighting history and rich tradition of public service to the city.

"He's the one who enrolled me in paramedic school and started me down the path to get an education to get the job," Stanley said of his father. "He was a big influence."

On Thursday, Stanley retired, ending a 23-year career and the Moffett family's 104 years of consecutive service with the Schenectady Fire Department that began in 1918. Michael's three children have decided to pursue different careers and his nieces and nephews are still too young to join the department.

Surrounded by family, Stanley fought back tears Thursday morning as he stood in the bay of the Station 2 Fire House on State Street — where he spent the bulk of his career — listening as colleagues gave their best wishes and final farewells during a radio sendoff, a department tradition.

Most praised his work and his years of mentorship, but there was the occasional sarcastic jab that filled the bay with laughter and highlighted the years of camaraderie that Stanley said he will miss the most about the department.

Michael Stanley said plans for the next chapter are still being worked out, but the fire department will certainly be a part of whatever comes next.

"Looking forward to making new memories with all of you," he told his colleagues via radio transmission.

"It's having the respect for the men and women I've worked with," Michael Stanley said later. "That's the best memory I got."

Among those who were spotted wiping tears were Michael's mother, Kathy Stanley, and his sister, Karen Pelletier, who has spent months researching the family's history with the department.

"Everyone in my family is very proud of the Fire Department and the family's fire service," Pelletier said. "It's just cool. It's a long time. It's over 100 years and the family just kept with it."

Pelletier said her father pushed her to join the department, but she ultimately decided firefighting wasn't for her. She opted instead for a career with the Schenectady County Sheriff's Department, where she works as a sergeant at the county's jail.

"I told my father there was no way I was climbing ladders," she said with a laugh.

Kathy Stanley, meanwhile, said she's not surprised by her children's careers in public service — a trait she said that has been passed down for generations. Kathy herself worked as an emergency dispatcher.

She said the Fire Department holds a special place in the family's heart as she recalled how devoted the Moffett uncles and her late husband were throughout their decades-long careers. Seeing her son follow the tradition has been wonderful to see, Kathy Stanley said.

"The Fire Department was a central part of our life," she said. "That was the other family, and having my husband's two uncles — it was like a family thing all the time."

For Capt. Bill Rockenstyre, who has served alongside Michael Stanley for 21 years, Stanley's retirement and the Moffett legacy coming to an end are a tremendous loss for the department.

He praised the veteran firefighter's years of knowledge and his willingness to mentor younger members, adding Michael brought levity to what is a difficult job.

"He's [ Michael Stanley] leaving a hole for the department for sure," he said. "His father was on the job and gave the knowledge to him and he's given the knowledge to a lot of people. Now that's something that's going to end, so hopefully what he's taught other people will trickle down."

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(c)2022 The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y.
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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