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Lathrop, Ripon fire districts forge strong working ties
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LATHROP – Their men have fought side by side in blazing-hot situations for decades. They have joined hands in saving lives and properties.

Now, the neighboring fire districts of Ripon and Lathrop are swapping vehicles: A 2004 Ford Crown Victoria from Lathrop to Ripon, and a 1997 Ford ambulance vehicle from Ripon to Lathrop. The exchange happened sometime before the holidays.

These days, Ripon Consolidated Fire District’s Fire Marshal Joel Castro is seen driving around in a Ford Crown Victoria that used to belong to the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District. Conversely, the latter’s dive team members are using the comfort and convenience of one of Ripon’s ambulance vehicles in their training and rescue operations.

“At a time when we are all struggling to maintain levels of service to our communities, both of our districts are reaching out to each other more than ever to work together in order to achieve our goals,” wrote Ripon fire district’s board chairman Dennis Van Der Maaten in his Dec. 10 letter to their counterparts in the Lathrop-Manteca district.

“We’re just two fire districts helping each other during tough times,” said Lathrop-Manteca Fire Chief Fred Manding.

He said he and Ripon Fire Chief Dennis Bitters started talking about a possible vehicle swap several months ago.

“We had a need (for an ambulance vehicle) because of our Dive Recovery Team, especially in the wintertime,” said Manding, when their firefighter divers need a heated area while putting on or taking off their water outfits.

Purchasing one for the district’s use would have cost $200,000 brand-new with all the electrical and communication gadgets, Manding said.

“It’s going to have a lot of uses” in the district, he said of Ripon’s vehicle donation.

Bitters said the ambulance was actually one of three that the Ripon district owned. They had just bought a new one, which left them with a “third ambulance that we had no use for and we were going to sell it,” he said.

“We’re a fire district but we run an ambulance service, too – have for 35 years. We’re the only fire department in (San Joaquin County) that runs an ambulance. We were the first paramedics in the county,” Bitters explained, giving a history of the Ripon ambulance in a nutshell.

The district did try looking at the possibility of selling their old ambulance but they realized it was hard to do that “in a depressed market,” Bitters said.

“So the board said, ‘why don’t we give it to the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District? We’ll be helping out someone who has helped us.’ They can use it for a lot of stuff – medical coverage at Dell Osso Farms…. It’s really a nice unit,” he said.

Besides, Bitters said, the ambulance was “getting on in years” and could not be fully trusted to put on the front line to take patients, “but it’s really a good vehicle.”

The Crown Victoria was “not necessarily what everybody wants, but it was perfect for us because our fire marshal is driving a four-wheel pick-up owned by the district,” Bitters said.

The pick-up was fine but sometimes they needed a vehicle with the maneuverability of a car like the Crown Victoria that is fully equipped to boot.

“For us, it was a good trade. It worked out all the way around,” Bitters said.

Lathrop-Manteca left intact the Crown Victoria’s lights and sirens. In return, Ripon left the radio in the ambulance.

“So it worked out really well,” Bitters said of the vehicle exchange.

“You don’t see a lot of it going on, but we get along well together with the Lathrop fire district,” he said of the vehicle exchange.

“We’re always looking at different ways to help each other,” commented Manding.

In his letter, Ripon board chairman Van Der Maaten sounded positive about the long-lasting symbiosis between the two districts.

“We look forward to future opportunities where we can work together to achieve our missions of providing the excellent levels of service to our constituents,” he stated.