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Firefighters come to rescue of dying trees at school
Custodian Jeff Hardenbrook uses a fire department three inch hose line to irrigate the interior planters at the school that has been without landscaping water for over three weeks. - photo by GLENN KAHL
RIPON — Ripon Fire Chief Dennis Bitters saw the parched landscaping at Ripon’s newest elementary school and stepped  up to the plate to meet the problem head on.  

Dry grass at Park View Elementary School was “crunching” under the feet of the kindergarten through sixth grade children. An electrical storm last month had damaged the pump controller subsequently the pump quit,   and the well shaft began to disintegrate.

The lack of water on the some four acres of turf as well as on the school’s young trees began to show  browning  in recent weeks, according to Principal Mona Ogden.  
The controller was repaired but then the pump went out – when it was fixed, it began pumping sand up out of the well.  Ogden said workers sent a video camera 100 feet down the shaft to inspect the soundness of the well and to search out other problems with the pool at the bottom.

Ogden said by the time the well could be put back into service – a good three weeks from now – all the green on the campus would have turned to brown.   Not only do the school’s students use the grassy fields, but it is a popular weekend site for soccer team competitions.  Some of those teams have chosen to go elsewhere because of the deteriorating grass, she added.

It was city parks staffer Don Meeuwse who brought the water issue to the attention of Ripon Fire Chief Dennis Bitters.  He had been attending a weekend soccer game and noticed the dying grass first hand.  He told Bitters he felt they could go out and do something about it.

Recognizing the potential loss of resources – grass and trees on the campus – Bitters took a fire department water tanker to the school and dumped water all over the fields.  He said he saw the serious need to save the landscaping.  

Bitters said he has several fire science classes underway at the fire department that requires pump testing – putting  out a lot of water.  He answered one critic who asked if he didn’t have anything better to do with his time by noting it would be better to test the pumps at the school site rather than moving the classes to the end of Fourth Street where the water would only cause the weeds to grow.

“It would be so easy to just throw your hands up in the air and do nothing,” the chief said.

Bitters said he contacted school board president Larry Stewart to get his perception of the water issue at the school.  He quoted Stewart as saying he would appreciate anything the fire department could do to help the problem.

Firefighters work on their own time to help
It was last Monday about 5 p.m. when the fire chief went out to visit the school and survey the landscaping.  Bitters said he went home and had dinner – going back out about 8 p.m. with the water tanker and an engine.   He and several firefighters – working on their own time – flooded the grounds with the tanker and hoses attached to hydrants.  They finished about 11 p.m., he said.  It was getting late and he feared the pumping noise would keep neighbors awake.

Bitters noted that he filled the tanker with non-potable water that is not used for drinking to irrigate the school campus.  He added that he needed to be checked out on the pumps on that tanker as well, since he still drives department trucks on occasion.  It served several needs in the scope of training.

School custodian Jeff Hardenbrook was loaned three sections of a three-inch fire hose and the key to hook it up to fire hydrants.  He has been taking care of the smaller landscaping areas near the buildings and the fire department has been continuing with the larger areas.

Ted Johnston and his city crews have gotten involved, too, and hooked up the sprinklers to the fire hydrants with PVC pipe connections.  

“No way could we have fixed our landscaping  with the economy – it wouldn’t have happened,” the Park View principal said.  “They just came to our rescue – it made us all feel good – all our trees would have died,” she said.

“Chief Bitters was awesome – really neat,” she added.