Fire Chief Steve Wakefield issued a warning when City Manager Eric Wier invited volunteers with Crescent City Fire and Rescue to trade stories about a man who has quenched flames and helped get people to safety for more than four decades.
“Remember for every one you know about me, I know something about you,” Wakefield said at the volunteer fire department’s annual Firemen’s Appreciation Dinner on Saturday.
But the first person to take the mic, Del Norte County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Bill Steven, an engineer with Crescent City Fire and Rescue, shared a memory that, he said, Wakefield didn’t know about though they’ve known each other for most of their lives.
Steven said he was about 30 years old in the mid-1990s when his father died. After “floating around for a few years,” Steven joined the fire department and became the person who made the preparations for the department’s monthly dinner meetings. He said he and Wakefield would go shopping at Safeway together every month to prepare for those dinners.
“This isn’t a great story, but it’s the little things that are important, and you know, Steve isn’t even old enough to be my dad, I want to point that out,” Steven said. “It was a small thing, but when you and I would go shopping every month at Safeway I really looked forward to that because it was almost as if I was hanging out with my dad once a month.”
Firefighters from around the community, including those who represented other agencies such as CALFIRE, as well as city and county law enforcement celebrated what it means to be a first responder. Following tradition, Wakefield dismissed each table to go and get their meal and served up the prime rib that was the centerpiece.
Wakefield handed out 5-, 10-, 20- and 30-year pins to those he served with. He awarded a special plaque to firefighter David Smith, who has been with the department for 40 years, paid a special tribute to Smith’s father, longtime volunteer firefighter and former Crescent City Councilor C Ray Smith and gave each volunteer a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “so God made a firefighter.”
But it was Steve Wakefield, who retired after 25 years as fire chief after suffering two strokes in early 2018, and his wife, “fire mom” Debra Wakefield, who were the real guests of honor.
Wier, a firefighter with the department himself, called Steve Wakefield an inspiration who gave his support to Wier when he became interim city manager.
“How do you progress with life after Steve Wakefield as chief,” Wier asked. “And the answer is you don’t.”
Toward the end of the dinner, Wier presented the Wakefields with a special firefighter’s ax and a proclamation from the Crescent City Fire and Rescue Association bestowing Steve Wakefield with lifetime membership. Wakefield’s sons, Ryan, Mark and Matt presented the fire chief with a granite bench on behalf of the Crescent City Fire and Rescue Association, the City of Crescent City and the Crescent Fire Protection District.
For Debra Wakefield, who founded the Community Emergency Response Team about six years ago, was instrumental in organizing the emergency operations center and organized Christmas parties and other gatherings for decades, the volunteer fire department gave her a blanket with the words “you are always there for us.”
Becky Barlow, who taught alongside Debra Wakefield for years, said she took an EMT class from Debra Wakefield, who encouraged them to volunteer with the fire department. Barlow gave Debra Wakefield a card with “Debra you’re a great fire mom” on it written in sound spelling cards.
“But it’s all written in sound spelling cards, which are something we work on literacy in all of the schools right now,” Debra Wakefield said.
One member of the volunteer fire department said though she has only been with the department for three years, she has known Debra Wakefield for much longer than that since she grew up with Wakefield’s sons.
“Yes we lovingly call her fire mom at the department as she moms us and does all the quintessential mom stuff,” the volunteer said, adding that Debra Wakefield organizes all the events including the annual fire dinner.
Before Wier closed the awards program, Steve Wakefield told his firefighters that each and every one of them has made a difference, not just for the department, but for the community. He had a few words of wisdom to impart.
“Be proud of yourselves, be proud of what you do,” he said. “Have fun, ‘cause if you can’t make it fun, you’re not going to have volunteers.”
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .