2013-06-13 / Community

Always on call

Newbury Park dad is a lifesaver
By Darleen Principe


A HERO TO HIS FAMILY—Whenever Newbury Park dad John Wade would visit his daughter’s school as a member of the Ventura County Fire Department years ago, she would beam. “He’d come in and I’d tell everyone, ‘This is my dad.’ I was so proud of him,” said Donna Long. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers A HERO TO HIS FAMILY—Whenever Newbury Park dad John Wade would visit his daughter’s school as a member of the Ventura County Fire Department years ago, she would beam. “He’d come in and I’d tell everyone, ‘This is my dad.’ I was so proud of him,” said Donna Long. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers The teletype at KNJO radio clicked and rattled as it spit out the latest news for John Wade to read on the air.

In the 1960s, the noisy “rip and read” newswire machine was the only way the Thousand Oaks disc jockey could share what was happening in the world.

But there was one glaring problem with the teletype.

It never had any local news, said Wade, one of seven employees at KNJO, the Conejo Valley’s first radio station. So the Newbury Park resident took matters into his own hands.

“At the station I would always hear sirens go by,” Wade, 70, said. “One day, I got in my car and followed a fire engine. I got on Highway 101 and I could see the smoke down the Conejo grade. . . . I climbed out of my car and a firefighter asked me, ‘Hey, are you a volunteer?’ I said, ‘No, I’m a reporter.’ Then he said, ‘Well grab that hose—we need help.’

“Eight hours later I had a firstperson account of what it was like to fight a brush fire.”

In April 1966, the local DJ officially became a volunteer with the Ventura County Fire Department, primarily so he could share local news with his listeners.

But by October 1978, Wade had fully traded in his broadcasting career for a permanent place on the fire engine.

Donna Long, Wade’s daughter, said she remembers as a child visiting her dad at Fire Station No. 35 in Newbury Park.

“He’d be working most holidays, so we would be at the fire station on Christmas and New Year’s,” Long said. “We would be sitting down to start dinner and then a call would come in and my dad would have to go. Holidays never happened on the days they were supposed to. We had to reschedule everything. But it was okay—holidays were just a number.”

Having to postpone family functions, she said, was a small price to pay for having a hero as a dad.

“When I was in elementary school, they would always bring my dad in for safety days and stuff,” the Pinecrest School alumna said. “That kind of made me the popular kid there. He’d come in and I’d tell everyone, ‘This is my dad.’ I was so proud of him.”

Because of Wade’s broadcasting background, he served as a public information officer for VCFD for many years. Besides speaking at Long’s school, he often spoke at the schools of his two stepchildren, Jennifer Aukes and Chris Sutton.

“I was just a dad,” Wade said. “And I happened to be a firefighter too. It gave me a lot of pride because my kids were proud of me. They had somebody as a positive role model in their lives.”

Despite retiring from VCFD in 2003, Wade still comes to the aid of the community whenever he can.

Last week, from inside his home near Lynn and E. Kelley roads, Wade heard the loud, metallic crash of two cars colliding down the street.

He called 911, grabbed a pair of rubber gloves from the box near his front door and ran out to find an 86-year-old woman badly injured in her car.

A firefighter from Los Angeles and an off-duty nurse who happened to be driving through the area also stopped to help the woman.

“There wasn’t anything we could do at that point,” Wade said. “We couldn’t even get her out of the car because it was so badly wrecked. So I just stayed with her until the fire engine got there.”

The woman, Martha York of Newbury Park, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Wade said he’s responded to about 20 car crashes in that same intersection since he retired 10 years ago.

“I will never not be a part of the fire service,” he said. “I’ll always do what I can when someone’s injured or needs help.”

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