Silence filled Cornerstone Community Church's sanctuary Saturday when emergency dispatcher Tom Betlejewski called Steve Wakefield for the last time.
"Attention all units in the station, it is with deep regret that we announce the passing of Chief 51, Stephen Wakefield, of the Crescent City Fire and Rescue," Betlejewski said. "Role call has been taken and Chief 51, Stephen Wakefield, has failed to answer. The bell will be struck for his last alarm. May the sun shine upon his path. May the wind always be at his back. His presence will be forever remembered. Thank you for your service. Radio clear."
Wakefield's family, friends and colleagues, along with others in the community, gathered to celebrate a man Foursquare Church Pastor Roger Bodenstab referred to as "the face of Crescent City." Though he acknowledged the fire chief likely wouldn't have approved the moniker, Bodenstab said Wakefield influenced so many lives, the degree of loss to the community is "even greater."
"Our challenges today are to continue that process of loss and, as he would do, find the courage to be brave and work together to get through it," Bodenstab said.
Wakefield died following a third stroke on April 26, 2019, about a year after two others forced him to retire from Crescent City Fire and Rescue. He was 64 years old.
At his celebration of life on Saturday, City Manager Eric Wier read a tribute he had submitted to the Triplicate, stating Wakefield led through actions not words and "embodied what it means to be a fire chief."
"He was relentless in the way he cared for this community," Wier said. "Don't get me wrong, although rare, Steve's voice did get excited and those of us that listened to the radio often could always tell those calls that were a little bit tense. When he needed some help and when his voice did get a little bit elevated, we knew it was time to listen and he meant business."
Emergency personnel, including law enforcement, military and fire chiefs are rare breeds, Wier said, but those who worked with Wakefield are volunteers. Wakefield himself was a volunteer for more than 20 years before becoming fire chief, Wier said.
Following in his father's footsteps, Steve Wakefield became the city's fire chief in 1995. Ten years later he took on additional duties of being the joint fire chief for both the city and Crescent Fire Protection District and began the process of joining the two agencies together through joint trainings, dinners and mutual aid agreements, Wier said. In 2015, the city fire department officially merged with Crescent City Fire and Rescue and now takes on more than 1,600 calls a year, Wier said.
"I cannot imagine how this would be possible without the leadership and dedication of Steve Wakefield," Wier said, adding that countless families and individuals have a story about how Wakefield helped them during an emergency. "He led by example, always giving service above self and empowering others to enact that positive change."
During the service, Bodenstab told the parable of the Good Samaritan, saying even though it's familiar, it's really a call to action. He urged the congregation to see the parable in a different light as they honor Wakefield.
"I pray that today we take that call to action, whether we're serving or not, and be a Good Samaritan, put service above self," Bodenstab said, echoing the Crescent City Council's decision to declare Dec. 3, 2018 Service Above Self Day in honor of Wakefield's dedication to the community. "Not only for our family, but for our community and even our world that we might go forth and honor Chief Steve Wakefield, not just today, but in the years to come we would see our community transform by this."
Following the service, the fire chief's truck led a lengthy procession that included multiple agencies from the church to the cemetery. A reception-fellowship following the graveside service allowed many of Wakefield's colleagues to share their memories of the fire chief.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .