MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

June 30, 2013

Firefighter withstood heat, climbed career ladder

From green recruit to assistant chief in 33 years

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Stanley Perkins nearly quit his firefighting career after his first fire.

“On the first day we went to a house fire,” he said. “I was sent in and breathing that smoke, choking. I went home and I started to call the chief, thinking of quitting. I got up to call, and I don’t know what happened, but I didn’t call. I went on back to work the next shift and they had another house fire and it was blazing. Finally, I got used to it.”

From that day nearly 33 years ago, Perkins advanced from private to driver, then from driver to captain. He became the assistant fire chief in April.

“It’s been a wonderful job,” said Perkins, 55.

Perkins learned his work ethic years earlier, when he was in elementary school. He said his father, who worked for Oklahoma Natural Gas, had janitorial jobs on the side.

“We used to tell my friends, if they wanted to hang with us, they had to work the jobs, too,” he said.  

Perkins said he originally wanted to be a veterinarian, then a pro football player. He attended college wanting to be a safety manager. He settled on a job at the Muskogee Fire Department, where he has served for more than 30 years.

And through all that time, he’s kept the Ford Torino fastback that he had in high school.

“It’s been in the family since my uncle bought it new,” Perkins said. “I drove it back in high school and through college, then when I started with the fire department.”

He stopped driving it in the mid-1980s when it started getting rusty. However, he has restored it to a clean white finish.

“I got it in pretty good shape now,” he said, adding that it took three years to restore the car. “I don’t drive it much anymore. I don’t want anyone to hit it, and finding parts for it would be a nightmare.”

Meet Stanley Perkins

AGE: 55.

HOMETOWN: Muskogee.

CAREER: Assistant Muskogee fire chief.

EDUCATION: Jefferson, Douglas and Grant Foreman elementary schools, Alice Robertson Junior High, Muskogee High School 1977; University of Central Oklahoma, 1981.

FAMILY: Wife, Juanda Perkins; two stepchildren, Andrea Vann and Ron Givens.

CHURCH: Rayfield Baptist Church.

HOBBIES: Walking, a little photography, disc jockey for weddings.

Memories of

a long career



Stanley Perkins started working with the fire department right out of college.

“I found out they were hiring at the fire department,” he said. “I did a little running, did push-ups and sit-ups and went down and took that written test. I passed, and they let me take the physical test and I passed.”

One of his early fires was at his parents’ house.

“It seemed the truck wouldn’t go fast enough,” Perkins recalled, adding that the fire ended up being nothing but smoke coming from an air conditioner.

Perkins joined the fire department in the days when firefighters would stand and hang onto the firetruck on the way to a fire.

“It was exciting but dangerous,” he said. “It was good in the summertime, but in the winter time it was terrible. It just had a big steel bar that ran across the truck. We’d  hang our hats on the fire wrench, then when alarms come in, we’d jump on the truck, put our hip boots on first, get one arm in the coat, hold on to the bar and try to swing that other arm in there while we were pulling out of the garage. There would be a tarp on the back, covering the hose, and we’d get up under the tarp, get out of the wind and try to get the rest of our gear on as we were going down the street.”

He said they would hang on in rain, sleet or snow.

“I remember being back there when a thunderstorm was going on or it was snowing,” he said. “Our hands would get black and blue holding on to that bar.”

Fire trucks now have seats in the back and a full cab.

Perkins spent seven years as a private, then 13 years as a driver. He spent 10 years as a captain.



The evolution

of music formats



While in high school, Perkins got a gig that continues to this day: He’s a disc jockey for special events.

He began back when a DJ actually spun records.

“When I was in high school we had nothing to do, so a friend and I got together to give parties on weekends at the Civic Center,” he said. “We called ourselves We Funk. And people are still talking about We Funk.”

He said the group started with his brothers and some of his football buddies. They’d charge $1 admission.

“We didn’t make much money, just enough to pay for the room,” Perkins said. “We had a turntable and we played a lot of rhythm and blues, soul music. We called it funk. We also played a little bit of the Commodores and the O’Jays.”

He said the parties got so popular on the weekends, people would call wanting to know when they were. Even parents would call wanting to know when they could take their kids, he said.

Eventually, the albums gave way to CDs. Then the CDs gave way to downloads on a laptop.

This makes the shows a lot easier, Perkins said.

“We used to have to pack crates and crates of music,” he said. “Now, with the laptop, we have thousands and thousands of songs on the laptop. That’s easier and better.”

Perkins said he now does music for weddings and family reunions.



Great high school

football memories



Perkins spent part of his childhood wanting to be a pro football player. He started in elementary school, playing in the Paul Young Football League. He later played at Alice Robertson Junior High. He said his ninth-grade football coach, J.W. Salmon, had a big impact on his life.

“He used to talk to us every day, relating football to the game of life,” Perkins said. “He’d talk about how in football you got to just hang in there, keep trying. He’d work us hard, but he’d always relate it to life.”

Perkins played high school varsity football, starting as a fullback and strong safety under Ray Grandstaff.

“He came up from Checotah and coached a few years,” Perkins said. “When he came up, it was my sophomore year and a lot of kids quit. We ended up having mostly 10th- graders starting on varsity.”

By the time Perkins was a senior, the MHS Roughers had matured.

“My sophomore and junior year, we had 4-6 records,” he said. “But, then in my senior year, we won our conference and were ranked No. 1 in the state going into the playoffs. We beat Memorial. They were the strongest team in the state. They hadn’t been beaten in two years. They came to Muskogee, and we beat them by a couple of touchdowns. They were the state champions the year before.”

Q&A

HOW DID YOU BECOME AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?

“My father originally was from Texas. My mother’s parents came here from Alabama. I came back here after college because my mother was here.”

WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?

“It’s just a small town, not too big. You can get around.”

WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?

“If we didn’t have as much crime and if we could get more jobs.”

WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING IN MUSKOGEE?

Assistant Muskogee fire chief.

WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?

“I used to work part-time janitorial jobs. My wife and I now like to walk and ride bikes.”

WHAT OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE?

“My wife and my dad. My dad used to be on the City Council and was vice mayor, Robert Perkins. Both people do what they say. You can depend on them.”

WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?

“My senior year, I was playing football against Memorial. We got down by a touchdown in the fourth quarter. I didn’t usually carry the ball, but they gave the ball to me and I ran 50 yards for a touchdown, and we ended up winning the game.”

HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?

“It’s an interesting place. A great place to live if you’ve got a decent job.”