Volunteers can often go unrecognized, especially when their work is done quietly, in uniform, at the neighbor’s house or across town, year in and year out. But state and local officials, along with the East Farmington Volunteer Fire Department paused recently to recognize Ralph Westerberg for 50 years of service to the town of Farmington.
Westerberg, 71, joined the East Farms Fire Department in July of 1962, the same year he graduated from Dean College and the year he married his wife.
Since then he’s run into burning buildings, performed CPR on a dying man, served for years as the president of the East Farms Volunteer Fire Department and its secretary and helped hundreds of Farmington residents.
He was inspired to enter the fire service by his father, a veterinarian in town, and a founding father of the East Farms department in 1943, according to current department president Bonnie Sudell. His mother was a founding member of East Farms Ladies Auxiliary.
“I like to help people; I take after my father,” Westerberg said in an interview Tuesday. “[My father] was a veterinarian, always there to help people. He would call me up in the middle of the night to his hospital to help with emergency surgery. I remember how dedicated he was and I guess it rubbed off on me.”
For Ralph Westerberg, that dedication translated into giving his time to keep others safe.
“Ralph is a very generous person,” Sudell said. “He gives of his time and he really wants to help in any way that he can, as evidenced by the fact that he lives in the highlands section near the high school and he would drive to the fire house knowing he wouldn’t make the first truck but wanting to be there in case another call came in so he could be of assistance.”
It was time he gave to the town.
“There were many missed meals and many sleepless nights,” Westerberg said. “I can remember one fire at the restaurant where Rossinsi’s was.... It was dark but the sky was lit up and I think we were still there at dawn. Many-a time we’d respond to a call and we’d see the sun come up.”
Ralph Westerberg’s love of the fire service wore off, too, on his own children.
“All three of his sons have been volunteer firefighters,” Sudell said. “His son, Ken, who now lives in New Mexico was a volunteer with East Farms. And Neil and Karl are volunteers with the Farmington Volunteer Fire Department in the center.”
Though it’s been demanding, Westerberg said he’s also gotten a lot out of the fire department.
“The comraderie is really fantastic. We all stick together like family,” Westerberg said.
And while Westerberg is still running out to calls, he’s not running into burning buildings anymore.
“I drive the medical truck and support the firefighters on the scene - that’s my biggest role.”
His half-century of service gained him official proclamations from State Rep. Bill Wadsworth and the General Assembly, Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Farmington Town Council. Director of Fire and Rescue Services Mary-Ellen Harper wrote him a letter of thanks, saying, “…you have played a very important role in the lives of your fellow citizens during their times of need for the past half century. Your dedication to your community is inspirational.
His peers honored him at a party, with an engraved cake server and a cake bearing Westerberg’s image in 1962. They also gave him a water feature for his beloved gardens, that includes a fire hose-shaped fountain.
The text of the Farmington proclamation, issued by Town Council Chairman Jeff Hogan and read by member Mike Demicco, follows:
Whereas Ralph Westerberg has been a lifelong resident of Farmington, Connecticut and,
Whereas Ralph Westerberg began his firefighting career fighting brush fires while earning his college degree at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts and
Whereas Ralph Westerberg was appointed as a volunteer firefighter with The East Farmington Volunteer Fire Department on August 7, 1962 and
Whereas Ralph Westerberg joined the proud tradition of service to his community started by his father, Dr. Ralph Westerberg, founding father of The East Farmington Volunteer Fire Department in March of 1944 and his mother, Marguerite Westerberg, founding member of The East Farmington Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary in1951 and
Whereas Ralph Westerberg passed on his spirit of volunteerism to his sons, Ken, Karl and Neil, who also joined the volunteer fire departments in Town and
Whereas Ralph Westerberg was joined by his brother Alan, who served as a volunteer in The East Farmington Volunteer Fire Department, the Avon Fire Department and the Simsbury Fire Department and
Whereas Ralph influenced his sister, Jean Westerberg Ansell of Watsonville, California to cobble together a used engine, old breathing apparatus and donated fire gear to start a volunteer fire department in her town and
Whereas Ralph received the first ever Public Service Award from the Secretary of the State's Office in June of 2001 for his more than 25 years of service to the community and
Whereas Ralph earned the Chief's Award for Best Attendance for Night Responses in 1987, the Chief's Achievement Award in 1987, a Certificate of Award for his efforts in the successful resuscitation of a patient in Cardiac Arrest in 1994, the Department's Petersen Award in 1996, and the Department Achievement Award in 2003, and
Whereas Ralph served the East Farmington Volunteer Fire Department in the capacity of Secretary and President for many years and
Whereas Ralph participated in and honed his skills in countless training sessions over his years of involvement and
Whereas Ralph still serves as a volunteer with The East Farmington Volunteer Fire Department and has shaped the face of the fire service in Farmington by his selfless dedication and
Whereas Ralph Westerberg has been a member of The East Farmington Volunteer Fire Department for over 50 years,
Now therefore, the Farmington Town Council hereby commends Ralph for his excellent work on behalf of the community and we hereby thank him for his selfless dedication and immeasurable contributions and commitment to the Town of Farmington and its residents. The Farmington Town Council hereby extends to Ralph and his wife of 50 years Alyce, best wishes in their future endeavors and we hereby proclaim Saturday, August 18, 2012 as Ralph Westerberg Day in Farmington.
Dated at Farmington, Connecticut this 14th day of August 2012.
Jeffrey J. Hogan
Chair, Farmington Town Council