New Hampshire Fire Chief Dies While on Duty

HOPKINTON, N.H. -- Town leaders and officials expressed shock and sorrow at the sudden death of Fire Chief Richard Schaefer, who died of a heart attack Sunday night.

Schaefer, 52, was at the fire station in neighboring Contoocook, near where the Hopkinton State Fair was taking place, when he began experiencing chest pains. He was taken by ambulance to Concord Hospital, where he suffered cardiac arrest.

A statement from the Hopkinton Fire Department noted that Schaefer was stricken while working "a busy shift" during the state fair, the popular five-day event over Labor Day weekend. A moment of silence was observed at the fair Monday in Schaefer's honor.

Jim O'Brien, chair of the Hopkinton Board of Selectmen, said that the fair tends to be a hectic time for the fire department. "It's a pretty big deal. It's all hands on deck," he said.

O'Brien described Schaefer's death as a shock, echoing the sentiments of several town leaders.

"He was a great guy, very up-front and honest. As one would expect in a small town, someone holding that type of position is a real loss for the community," O'Brien said.

Flags at the town hall are being flown at half-staff in Schaefer's honor. The doors of the fire station were draped in black bunting.

Schaefer had been with the fire department in a part-time capacity since 1979, and he was promoted to chief in 1999. A few years ago, he became the town's first full-time chief.

He leaves behind a wife and three grown children.

Peter Russell was the town's fire chief when Schaefer was deputy chief in the 1990s.

"He was a wonderful person. He was a great husband, father and grandfather," Russell said. "When I retired, he was the man I had roped in so he could take over that position. I'm very proud of the way he handled himself. He fulfilled that dream and did it well."

Russell also noted how surprising the death was.

"It's one of those things that we'll all come to grips with at some point in time. But he's going to be sorely missed," Russell said.

A statement from the Hopkinton Fire Department noted Schaefer's "sudden death has left his fire family and friends in shock. We offer our sincerest condolences to the family."

The family is expected to announce funeral arrangements.

Selectman George Langwasser, who had known Schaefer since he was in high school, said his thoughts were with his family.

"They need our prayers," he said. "It came too suddenly."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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