More than 350 people ignored threatening skies Saturday to show their support for Ripon police and firefighters.
The Second Annual First Responders Celebration and Parade started with community members gathered in front of the Ripon Police Department and then marching to the Ripon Consolidated Fire District headquarters.
Mayor Mike Restuccia — who launched the event last year — gave instructions to those gathered before the procession started using the microphone in a police sergeant’s SUV that was parked in the driveway of the police department on Wilma Avenue.
Those in the crowd chatted together for over a half hour in front of the city’s offices in a recognition of Ripon’s past with many telling of positive and timely stories and responses of the town’s emergency services when the police and fire headquarters were much smaller. The police department was in a small frame structure in the downtown area near the Veterans’ Memorial Building at Locust and Main streets. The original jail is still located nearby, having been restored.
The parade of community members got underway behind an honor guard from the Ripon High School JROTC followed by bagpipers piping traditional tunes recognized by the men and women of both departments.
Three Ripon reserve firefighters — Kris Henderson, Jennifer Haverty and Jillian Debar — were at the station Saturday morning taking part in the event and welcoming the citizens of Ripon.
The fire department’s first building dates back to the early 1920s when it was located in a much smaller frame building on the same location that it occupies now on Stockton Avenue. In the 1950s Nick Van Dyken became the first paid employee of the department and his salary as Chief was $350 a month. The department installed an alarm system in his house and his wife Nellie served as dispatcher. In 1956 a new $50,000 fire station was built and is in the location of the first structure when you walk into the office area today. The fire department has had a challenging time over the years because it has always had to fund itself, being independent of the city of Ripon. The current new and much larger headquarters station was built over 10 years ago to serve the larger area encompassing the Ripon Unified School District boundaries outside the city of Ripon. It now has three stations, with two in rural locations.
On December 23, 1921 the fire department was formed and its first commissioners were Sidney Reynolds, George Bainbridge and Al Norse with the district encompassing only one square mile. Stockton Avenue and Main Street were the center of the small district. Arthur Stuart was the first fire chief with some 10 firemen at the time, according to Ripon historian John Mangelos.
The police department dates to November 1945 when community elected to become a city and govern itself. Avon “Tobe” Graham became the first police chief who reportedly had a short tenure saying he didn’t like being mean to people enforcing the law as he knew it had to be done was incompatible with his friends, old and young, and it was a difficult thing to do. He was known to do puppet shows for children in the community and liked people too much to be in law enforcement.
Police motorcycle Sergeant Steve Meese broke traffic and made sure those in the march were kept safe as they walked down the right side of the roadway past the several mom and pop stores getting ready to open their doors.
The streets were wet but the rain had stopped with the parade snaking by Bethany Home and witnessed by its senior citizens who had been rolled out to the street in their wheelchairs as it moved beneath the historic arch of the city and turned south at the main intersection with Stockton Avenue.
The Ripon Consolidated Fire District headquarters in the 100 block of South Stockton Avenue was ready for them with static displays of fire equipment and a large American Flag draped from the top of the 100-foot ladder truck on the apron of the engine bays. The inside of the department had been made ready for a crowd of some 350 Ripon citizens complete with a microphone and lectern to serve the speeches from the fire chief, police chief, sheriff and songstress Debra Long.
Framed citations acknowledging the event were presented by San Joaquin County Supervisor Chuck Winn, Assemblyman Heath Flora and from staff members of U.S. Representative Jeff Denham.
Joint challenge coins representing both Ripon police and fire were on hand and offered for $10 each to the citizens and children were given paper badges from both departments. Several off-duty officers and firefighters from other departments were also at the event including one sergeant from the Manteca Police Department and his young son.