Thursday, May 11, 2006 2:27 PM PDT

Already brushing up on the 'map book' that includes the many new streets in Escalon that have been added over the past few years, newly hired Fire Chief Rick Mello is happy to be back in his hometown. He is an Escalon High graduate.

Taking over as the new chief for the Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District on May 1, 2006, Mello is happy to be back at work in the community where he grew up and graduated from high school.

He most recently served as a Battalion Chief for the East Contra Costa Fire District but was the top choice of the Escalon Fire Board for the vacant position here and accepted the job.

"Johnny and Roy on Emergency, they did me in," Mello said, laughing about the TV show that sparked his interest in the fire and emergency services. "That old Squad 51."
Now a resident of nearby Ripon, Mello continued to live there while working for East Contra Costa and said one of the reasons he began looking elsewhere for work was because of the commute.

"I found out how important it was to be close to home," he said. Married for almost 20 years, Mello and his wife Crystal recently welcomed an adopted daughter, 22-month-old Emily, into their home. When he learned of the opening in Escalon, Mello decided to apply, and went through a series of interview panels on the way to his selection for the job.

Before joining East Contra Costa, Mello was a Battalion Chief in the Ripon Fire Department, serving there since 1996. A 1982 graduate of Escalon High School, Mello earned his EMT in 1983 and attended paramedic school at Modesto Junior College in 1984.

New Fire Chief On Board For Escalon

"It cost me $161 and I was outraged," he said of the training, noting that now that figure pales in comparison to what one course - or just the books for it - costs. He received his paramedic certificate and started taking fire science classes at MJC in 1987.

"I started working right out of high school," he noted. "I had wanted to go into physical therapy, sports medicine, but it never materialized." So he combined work with his schooling and eventually joined the Escalon Fire Department as a volunteer in 1988. He was hired fulltime as a firefighter in 1990 and achieved the rank of captain before leaving for Ripon.

Mello said he was a bit surprised by the growth in the community since he left, though he agreed it has been slow and steady."Just driving around, seeing all the new houses," he said, noting that he will have to familiarize himself with new subdivisions and street names. "In Ripon, the map book was changing every day," he added of the rapid growth in that community.

The department has grown in Escalon as well as the town, said Mello, and he's slowly adjusting to the fact that he is now the top man for a department in which he once was a rank and file employee."It's very hard to get used to the fact that you're the guy," he admitted. "The buck stops with you, all the decisions are yours."

He said his job, however, has been made easier by the good hands the department was in on an interim basis. "Terry did a great job," Mello said of assistant fire chief Terry Pinheiro, who served as interim chief for several months.  Pinheiro did not seek the chief's job.

"I inherited a good thing," Mello said. "I was the only paid guy when I left (the department) and now, it's up to six."  Mello also pointed out the change in runs from his earlier stint with the department. "In the mid-80s, fire became a first responder, they felt they could get a fire unit on scene to help early on, before the ambulance," he said. "Back in the 80s before that, we could get 200 or 300 calls a year, now, it's up to over 1,000 calls a year, with the medical aids."

As far as his first call as a volunteer, Mello said it wasn't "anything memorable," either a routine pole fire or wires down call. The selection process for Mello included three separate interview panels, one with a group of fire chiefs, one with a group of six community members and the third with the Escalon Fire Board. "There were a lot of questions," he admitted. "Apparently I said the right things."

Mello said that he is excited to have this new opportunity and foresees a good working relationship with the community. He plans to attend the Monday night City Council meeting on May 15 and has already had informal meetings with City Manager Greg Greeson and Police Chief Doug Dunford. He also attended the recent Kiwanis Club meeting to introduce himself.

"You don't often get the opportunity to be in this position in your hometown," Mello added. "My job is to make sure we don't go backward, we need to keep progressing."

Courtesy of Escalon Times

Already brushing up on the 'map book' that includes the many new streets in Escalon that have been added over the past few years, newly hired Fire Chief Rick Mello is happy to be back in his hometown. He is an Escalon High graduate.    Marg Jackson The Times