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California Paramedics Begin 'Rescue' of Early Rig

After rescuing residents for decades and then sitting in disuse for years after it was retired, Campbell's Rescue 25 paramedic  vehicle is finally going to see some new action. At an event at Rock Bottom Brewery in the Pruneyard on March 31, the Friends of Rescue 25 Restoration Project received the last of the funding they needed to pay for the vehicle to be restored to its original service condition.

Residents might even be able to see the fruits of the Friends labor and the results of the community's donations before the end of the year. The group's leaders estimate that the project will be completed in time for the holidays.

"We think it would be a great addition to the Christmas parade," said Charlie Gibson, coordinator for the Friends of Rescue 25 Restoration Project. "Unless there's some complication, we feel pretty comfortable making that our soft target."

Santa Claus riding in the 1974 Chevrolet paramedic vehicle might be an unusual sight, but Campbell's original firefighter paramedics who once drove the truck are used to standing out. Longtime Orchard City residents may remember the Campbell Fire Department paramedics, who pioneered the profession in the early 1970s.

"They were the first paramedic program adopted by a municipality in Northern California," Gibson said.

One of Campbell's original firefighter paramedics, Fred Van Hook, said he and other members of the department took it upon themselves to receive medical training.

"We volunteered our time and attended school, and we didn't even know if we could get the program started," Van Hook said.

Campbell firefighters trained for more than a year on their days off to earn certification from the Santa Clara County Health Department. The first class of fire department paramedics to graduate in Northern California included Gary Salmon, Rick Kincaid, George Renshaw, Ray Rivero, Mike Johnson, Fred Bailey and Alan Lowder, along with Van Hook.

After completing their training, the firefighters than approached the city of Campbell.

"After we put in our year, we went to the council and said, 'We'd like your blessing,'" Van Hook said. "And you know what? They said 'yes.' They had enough faith in us to let us go."

Campbell fire department paramedics first responded to calls in September of 1974.

"It was busy," Van Hook said of their first few years responding to both fire and rescue calls. "We had twice as many calls and covered a big area."

Van Hook added that the public was a little reluctant at first, but once everyone accepted the idea it became a very successful program.

According to an article by Pat Safford in the Campbell Press, during their first year Campbell's paramedics responded to a total of 947 calls and saved nine lives of people who were medically "dead."

Eventually, Campbell's firefighters and paramedics were absorbed into the county's emergency services in the early 1980s, and the 1974 Chevrolet was first placed in reserve and then later declared a surplus. But those pioneer paramedics never forgot about how they got their start.

Van Hook, Gibson and another of Campbell's first firefighter paramedics Alan Lowder were much of the driving force behind getting their old paramedic truck restored.

"It started in September of 2009," Van Hook said of the idea to get the old Chevy back in top shape.

"I ride my bicycle a lot, and I would ride past the corporation yard where it sat. It reminded me that this is a historical vehicle and that it was a very important time in my life," he said.

So Van Hook sought out the help of Gibson, his longtime friend and neighbor, who had valuable experience working in local government.

"I had retired, and about two days later Fred was knocking on my door saying I had all this time on my hands," Gibson said, who served as parks and open space manager in Mountain View and now serves on Campbell's parks and recreation commission.

Van Hook, Gibson and Lowder went before the Campbell City Council to gain support for their cause. Similar to when the paramedics first earned the city's blessing in the 1970s, the men were once again given the go-ahead from Campbell's officials.

"The initial goal was $20,000," Gibson said, "and as we worked through the project we were able to start to reassess. Ed Nunez gave us a complete assessment of the vehicle and said it was in very good condition mechanically, so we're estimating now somewhere between $15,000 and $17,000."

Until March 31, the group had raised slightly more than half of what it needed through selling T-shirts and hats and accepting donations.

"We went to all the Campbell functions; they were kind enough to give us space," Van Hook said. "But Rock Bottom Brewery gave us a real break. We were about two-thirds of the way done and would have been probably another six months or more the way we were going."

The Friends of the Rescue 25 Restoration Project were selected by Campbell's Rock Bottom Brewery as this year's recipient of its Fire Chief Ale promotion, which raises money for various fire-related charities. After a tapping event on March 10 and continued sales of the Fire Chief Ale until the March 31 event, the group reached its fundraising goal and then some.

"We're well over $15,000, which enables us to do a few extra things," Van Hook said.

The 1974 Chevy is going to receive a complete tune-up, new hoses and transmission seals, a complete paint job and attention to the interior, and most of the work will be done right in the Orchard City.

"We're having it painted at a local paint shop," Van Hook said. "We're trying to use vendors in Campbell and keep it a Campbell project."

Gibson, Lowder and Van Hook are optimistic the work can be completed this year, at which point the Rescue 25 vehicle will begin its new life as an educational tool and functioning historical artifact. And possibly Santa's new sleigh.


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