Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District (SCFPD) has had a few new fire chiefs over the past few years and newly appointed Fire Chief Mike Whorton plans on making his position permanent with a solid plan to make the department healthy again.
The Riverbank native and longtime resident graduated from Riverbank High School in 1986 and started in the fire department as a volunteer in 1987. He has remained in the community and also manages a business in downtown.
“I planned on going to school to be a chiropractor,” said Whorton. “A buddy of mine was a volunteer here and his dad was a paid fireman. I grew up with them. They needed volunteers at the station so he called me and asked me if I wanted to be a volunteer firefighter while I was going to school.”
During that time there were two fire stations in Riverbank, a volunteer station on Topeka Street and paid staff station on Claribel Road. An opening for the paid staff became available so he applied for it and got the position. This forced a decision that he had to make whether to continue his schooling to become a chiropractor or to pursue firefighting. Clearly the decision was to remain in the fire service, leading him to the opportunity of becoming the Fire Chief of SCFPD.
Whorton explained that in 1995 the Claribel Road station was sold so the Topeka station became the paid station.
“What kept me here was knowing that I was helping the community,” stated Whorton. “I enjoyed the different types of calls that we had here. I didn’t like some of the calls I had to go on that were friends and family. I had to deal with that. That was probably the hardest part. I grew up in Riverbank and it was small at that time. So I pretty much knew everybody. My family was from here and stuff so responding to calls of people that I knew and knowing that we did everything we could for that person but it just didn’t work out.”
Although those types of calls made it challenging at times for him to continue being a firefighter, he pushed through it and has served the community for over 30 years.
“Starting out at the bottom you look up and all the older guys were always getting all the holidays off and you are the young guy having to work all the holidays,” said Whorton. “And you are like, I will never get there but time went by fast and I was at that position. And look now there are young guys having to work the holidays when I have them off and I tell them you will be here one day and it will go by fast.”
With positive feedback and encouragement from Dan Reeves who was the fire chief that hired him to pursue the fire chief position and continue his education that gave him hope that one day he may be a fire chief. That dream came true when he was sworn in at the station on Topeka on Feb. 14 at the regular SCFPD meeting.
Daughters Kendra and Kailee pinned the badge on their father during the ceremony and there was a brief “welcome reception.” His wife Korie was in the audience and District Board President Susan Zanker swore him in.
“I still think it is not real,” expressed Whorton. “I have seen a lot of chiefs up there and I respected a lot of them and now I am here. I still don’t know what to think. There is so much work that needs to be done. A lot of relationships that need to be rebuilt that were tore up. The communication was terrible. That is one of my goals is communication between the other departments that we have contracts with, our neighboring agencies and especially with our employees. Communication needs to be built back between all of us. We need to work together and become a team again.”
Though he is now facing some challenges with contracts and budgets, Whorton noted that they are working through it. Making the adjustment from shift work to a 40 hour work week has been a little rough, especially with an instinct to go along on each call after being on an engine for 28 years.
The nine stations within the SCFPD provide fire and emergency medical services to over 500 square miles in the Eastern part of Stanislaus County. SCFPD was formed in 1995 after four small districts united. The SCFPD service area includes unincorporated sections of East Modesto, the communities of Riverbank, Waterford, Empire, La Grange, and Hickman and in September 2014 they provided fire protection services to the City of Oakdale and the Oakdale Fire Protection District became contracted agencies which include the communities of Valley Home and Knights Ferry.
Fire officials would like to remind everyone in the community that fires can be prevented so be fire safe around the house along with checking smoke detectors on a regular basis.