DOWNEY - After almost 35 years of service in the Downey Fire Department, most of it spent running operations at Fire Station No. 3, Capt. Bob Rapp was honored this week with a retirement party attended by city officials, including mayor Roger Brossmer, police chief Rick Esteves, fire chief Lonnie Croom, and by his other colleagues and staff.A highlight was the presentation of his retirement badge. Son Aaron and daughter Casey witnessed their dad hold back tears when his turn came to acknowledge the congratulations and best wishes of those present. Rapp, who was born in Long Beach, initially thought he wanted to become a police officer. Four weeks in the LAPD Police Academy convinced him that police work was not for him. "After I quit," he says, "I had no job. I had no career to speak of." His mom was happy, though, about his decision, he says, but his dad was not. He had earlier worked his way through Cal State Los Angeles, working the graveyard shift on Friday and Saturday nights, and working full-time in the summer, at a glass factory in Gardena, making 5-gallon bottles for Sparkletts. He graduated with a BS degree in police administration. It so happened that his mom had a friend, a fire captain with the Long Beach Fire Department. "I spent a shift with him," Rapp says, "and I was hooked on the fire service. I took fire science classes at Long Beach City College, and started testing [for possible job openings]." In the meantime, he says, he applied for a position with Signal Oil and Gas in the oil fields. "It was supposed to be only a two-week affair," he says, "but they liked my abilities with a shovel and hired me full-time. I worked there for four years on a maintenance crew with two other guys. This got me ready for the fire service." "I was hired by the Downey Fire Department on May 9, 1977," he continued. "To this day I still appreciate my job as a fireman, as compared to working in the oil fields." In his nearly 35 years with Downey Fire, Rapp fondly remembers the time spent traveling around the country with two other firemen checking out, testing, and delivering rigs ordered by the department. Pre-9-11, he says they would drive the rigs (engine company and ladder company) being outfitted back and forth from, say, Florida or from Pennsylvania or from Appleton, Wisconsin to such places as New York, New Orleans, Alabama. This routine started in 1988 and was to be repeated in selected years after that. Thus, Rapp says, for such significant pieces of equipment obtained at such significant costs, they had to be carefully "nurtured" and delivered intact and whole to Downey. This routine was to change post-9-11 when the delivery policy required the manufacturers' own drivers to drive the rigs themselves to their destinations. "I've loved this job," he says, "and I know I'll miss everything that goes with it. It's exciting, especially when you go to fight fires. In the past, we used to go to Lynwood, to South Gate, to Montebello, to Santa Fe Springs, with sirens wailing, eager to save property or whatever. It is truly the greatest job in the world. In this job, where there is so much to learn, every situation is different. When you go our on a call, you have to use pure common sense, always prepared for anything that might come up because you see people at their best and at their worst." Divorced in 1989, Rapp says he got custody of his two kids and, moving to Temecula, "I raised both of them." Aaron, 31, a Cal State San Marcos graduate, works for a fire equipment maintenance facility in Escondido, and, good with computers, "still wants to be a fireman." Casey, 28, lives in nearby Murrietta and works for the home health care and hospice company, Visiting Nurse Association. "They're good-hearted kids, both independent-minded," he says. As much as he loved his job, Rapp says he also welcomes retirement. His hobbies and interests have always included playing golf, working in the house, woodworking, visiting his sisters (Nancy Hanna lives in Arizona, while Chris Curry lives in Templeton, Calif.), and traveling in general. A brother died several years ago. Rapp says his two regular shift associates, fire engineer Kevin Kim and fireman Kerri Nony, are "two of the most hard-working, helpful, conscientious associates" he has worked with, and he has no doubt that his replacement, Capt. Sal Piscitelli, would "do just fine."
********** Published: December 22, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 36