For over 40 years Gwen Ginaitt has listened to the police and fire calls on her police radio scanner. While she's not an official member of the Warwick Police or Fire Departments, her father-in-law, Barney and husband, Frank served on
For over 40 years Gwen Ginaitt has listened to the police and fire calls on her police radio scanner. While she’s not an official member of the Warwick Police or Fire Departments, her father-in-law, Barney and husband, Frank served on the Bayside Volunteer Fire Department—Barney at a time when the department used horses. Her sons Peter and Michael retired from the Warwick Fire Department, where grandson Brad now serves. “It’s the most honorable profession out there,” Peter says with satisfaction.
At 93 years old, Gwen doesn’t recall where or when she first got it, and although her sight is failing, her police scanner now keeps her connected to the outside world from her home of four years, the Greenwood Community Nursing Home. “The scanner picks up radio frequency signals that are not encrypted by the FCC,” explains Peter. “It activates my mom‘s mind, and increases her awareness,” he adds thoughtfully. Wednesday, July 14th, Peter was finally able to visit his mother again at Greenwood, where, with new preventive health measures in place, a total of only five visitors a day are allowed.
Of course, the police scanner was a handy parenting device 40 or so years ago, sort of the GPS of its day. “My mom would ask, ‘How was your night last night?’” Peter chuckles. It didn’t matter what his answer was. “She would say, ‘Isn’t that funny…? I heard you got stopped.’”
“Peter was a very good boy, but of course he had his little tricks,” his mother says knowingly.
Lillian Gwendolyn “Gwen” Littlefield was born in 1927 in Brockton, Massachusetts. After completing nurses training at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, MA, she joined the United States Nurse Cadet Corps. Having earned her R.N., she was employed at Charles V. Chapin Hospital, originally City Hospital, a communicable diseases hospital, where she treated patients in the iron lung. The building is now a dormitory on the Providence College campus.
One night, young nurse Gwen accepted a dinner invitation from a young doctor to the Old Farmhouse Restaurant on Post Road. “He had a beautiful voice,” she recalls. While they dined, another young man standing at the bar was vying for her attention.
“He just thinks he’s being fresh,” she thought to herself, “but I’m going to take him up on it!” Excusing herself from the table to powder her nose, she approached the man at the bar, Francis “Frank” Ginaitt. She never returned to the table.
Gwen and Frank married and raised their five children, Janice, Tom, Michael, Patricia Ann, and Peter, in Providence and Warwick. For family trips to the summerhouse in New Hampshire, Gwen always packed her police scanner.
Peter says it was more than to feel safe, but to be nosy. “I’d adjust the scanner, all the different settings,” Gwen explains. As for the goings-on in a different locale, “The activity depended on the summer. A moose in the yard, that’s basically what it was.”
At home one day while she was ironing, Gwen listened to the dispatcher. “An elderly woman was running, desperately, on a mission, with something in her hand. It was a very hot day. Within a few seconds the police were in the area and on the scene. The woman was about to scale a wall, when the officers heard her say, ‘I’m going to find those thieves!’
‘We’ll find them, ma’am,’ they said.” The thieves turned out to be two monkeys who had escaped from their cages at Rocky Point Amusement Park. “They had broken into her house and stolen a pie.” (Could it have been a banana cream pie?)
Frank and Gwen were married for almost 50 years, when he passed away a month before their 50th wedding anniversary. Gwen is grandmother to 12, and great grandmother to six. “She’s a wonderful mother,” gushes Peter.
“He’s biased,” Gwen says, quick to mention the certificates on the wall in Peter’s office, as she proudly rattles off his career as a firefighter like his father, nurse like his mother, Lifespan director of emergency management, former Rhode Island State Representative, and currently, Rhode Island Public Transit Authority environmental affairs, safety and compliance officer.
Gwen’s trusty police scanner, a hobby turned parenting aid, the “white noise” in the background in the Ginaitt family home, may have influenced two of her sons to follow in the footsteps of their firefighter father and grandfather. It certainly makes Gwen an honorary member of the Warwick Fire Department.