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Six Ripon civic leaders partake in Fire 101
top RFD Werner Burn Room edited-1
Ripon City Administrator Kevin Werner advances on a blaze in the training facilitys burn room with another firefighter. - photo by Photos courtesy Ripon Fire Department

Six Ripon civic leaders donned firefighters’ heavy turnout gear Friday and learned first-hand the challenges and pressures of being active firefighters in the community.

It was part of the first “Fire 101” citizens’ academy in the training center at the rear of the fire department headquarters building in downtown Ripon.

Tamra Spade, Ripon Chamber of Commerce executive director, was the only woman among the group and questioned her ability in measuring up to what was expected of her despite her size.  She said she has always been fearful of heights and the 100-foot-ladder truck was no exception.  Spade made it up three quarters of the way with Battalion Chief Marty Cornilsen, where she gave a “thumbs up” to Fire Chief Dennis Bitters, standing at the base of the ladder.

The briefing with the chief and the training officer began at 9 a.m.  Others accepting the day’s challenges included Kevin Werner, city administrator Jake Parks, coffee shop owner and council member; Keith Rangel, assistant principal at Ripon High; Zachary Clark, Diamond Pet Foods and Ripon Christian High assistant Principal Justin Unruh.

Spade said they were told in the briefing what they should expect during the day with a promise they wouldn’t be asked to do anything where they felt totally uncomfortable as they went first into the “burning house” segment of the training facility.  They all manned a live fire hose attempting to quell the flames.

The chamber leader admittedly noted she suffers from claustrophobia but donned the oxygen mask anyway with a tank on her back.  She said she noted little discomfort and entered the fire with Jake Parks as her partner.  Tamra added that when it was necessary to leave, she only had to tap a regular firefighter on the shoulder and she was led out of the structure. 

Spade added that it didn’t feel all that hot, but found when she went outside she was actually sweating from the experience – adding she never sweats.  “I went into it wanting to participate,” she added.

Like all the others she had the opportunity to use the 70-pound Jaws of Life to cut apart a car in a simulated accident aftermath.  “I couldn’t imagine going up and into a burning building carrying an oxygen tank on my back,” she said.

“I give those guys a lot of credit – having to be in good physical health both mentally as well,” she said.  The on-duty firefighters were ready to take calls during the training exercises and I got to ride along on an ambulance call to Bethany Home for a 92-year-old woman who they transported to a hospital in Modesto.  They put me in a jump seat, facing backwards, and strapped me in..

Spade said it was an excellent experience because she got to go to the hospital and see the procedure of them checking in the patient.  She said the two EMT-Paramedic firefighters were great in talking with the patient and making her feel comfortable with her strange surroundings.  She recalls overhearing other ambulance personnel at the hospital talking with their patients as well.

Firefighter Drew Wilson was excellent in finding a vein for an intravenous line he inserted in the patient’s arm in the moving ambulance, she noted. 

“He’s trying to find a vein and the ambulance is bouncing around and he got it in the first time – something even doctors don’t always accomplish.  He was very impressive,” she said.  

The six Ripon community leaders ended their day at 4:30 and were invited for dinner with their families at the firehouse training room, enjoying hot dogs and hamburgers. 

“It was nice,” she said, “because everyone got to sit down together afterwards.”

A second citizens’ academy is expected to be held sometime in 2014