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Fire chief serving as Almond Blossom grand marshal
Dennis Bitters

Dennis Bitters is the face of the Ripon Consolidate Fire District.

In his 39-plus years, he’s the second-longest serving member of the district – John Navarra, who served from 1959 to 1990, holds the honor as the longest and is still alive – yet stands alone in one distinct area.

“I’m the only person to have held every rank in the department,” Bitters said on Thursday.

It’s no surprise that the Ripon Chamber of Commerce chose to recognize RCFD for “100 years of Protecting What’s Important” for this year’s Almond Blossom Festival.

RCFD board members picked Bitters as their representative for grand marshal.

He’s OK with the title, especially this year – due to COVID-19, the Almond Blossom Festival outside of the queen competition is canceled – with no parade in the plans.

“We’re the front line – we’re getting hammered by COVID while still having to handle any emergency situation,” said Bitters.

He was thrilled to share the 100-year anniversary of the district. The annual speech competition for Miss Ripon/Miss Almond Blossom Festival was a good kick-off for the RCFD centennial.

“It was a good thumbnail sketch of the history of the department (as presented) by all of the queen candidates – they all did a great job,” he said.

Included was the city fire department, as established in 1921, covering one-square block and the rural fire department operating just outside of town. By 1963, both fire departments converged to become one, establishing its own board of directors.

Today, RCFD has three stations, five engines and two emergency ambulances

As for Bitters, he’s the seventh fire chief in the 100-year history of the department. The first was Arthur L. Stewart Sr. in 1922.

“I never thought I would become a firefighter,” Bitters said.

Once upon a time, he worked at Ripon Farm Services as the Operations Managers Regulatory Affairs. In 1982, he was talked into joining the district as a volunteer firefighter and rose to the ranks of captain. He joined RFCD fulltime in 1990, but had to step down as captain since he was no longer a volunteer.

“I worked my way back up,” said Bitters.

By 2003, he became fire chief. “I think it helped having hazard material knowledge,” he added.

At one point, RCFD had 65 volunteers servicing the 56-square-mile area.

But that’s dwindled down to a dozen or so. “It’s becoming harder and harder to volunteer – the training requirements are pretty stiff,” Bitters said.

Outside of the Almond Blossom Festival, RCFD is looking to continue its 100-year anniversary celebration later this year.

“We’ll do something to recognize the past volunteers,” said Bitters, who noted possibly of doing just that in late September to early October.

An open house along with a Chili cook-off with food along with demonstration by the department could also be part of RCFD’s centennial plans.