Veteran finds second chance to serve
with Cornelius Fire Department
Right before he graduated high school, Kevin Ritcheson’s father gave him a choice: Go to college or get a job.
Ritcheson decided to pursue his dream of serving in the military. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1985, and he’s been serving in some way or another ever since.
“I’d always thought that I wanted to serve in the military, so on Christmas break, I went to a recruiter. And in the course of about four days, I was on delayed enlistment in the Air Force,” Ritcheson said.
Ritcheson accepted an “open mechanical” contract, which involved learning to work on jets as a mechanic. He attended tech school and served his first assignment in San Antonio, Texas.
Although his first four years of service were calm, Ritcheson moved around and adapted to new positions during a nearly 30-year career, serving in Arizona, Korea, and Oregon.
His career saw him fixing a variety of aircraft, ranging from T-38 Talon trainers to F-16 Fighting Falcons.
“Every time I moved to a different aircraft, I would go to a separate school for that particular aircraft — it was a very specialized type of training,” Ritcheson said.
After working in the Portland area for more than a decade — and with his daughter in high school — Ritcheson was given the option to move to Riverside, California, or Oklahoma City. He decided that it was time to take a step in another direction.
“My mother was a nurse for the Columbia County Jail, and they were getting ready to hire some EMTs at that time, and she said, ‘Hey, you should look into that,’” Ritcheson said.
Ritcheson became an emergency medical technician, and he connected with the Cornelius Fire Department through a church member.
“I applied to be a volunteer, and I was about two weeks in when it seemed like I got hit in the head with a 2-by-4 that said, ‘This is probably what you should have been doing your whole life,’” he said.
Ritcheson recalls being asked if he was interested in firefighting before entering the military, and he likes to think that he was given a “second chance” to pursue his calling.
After interning with the fire department and finishing medical school, Ritcheson landed a paid position with Cornelius Fire, where he now serves as a captain.
While Ritcheson found meaning during his time in the Air Force, his current work is where he feels he makes the impact he has always wanted to.
He recalled how much he enjoyed going into combat rescue after he got off active duty, which involved helping downed pilots and getting them out of harm’s way.
“I really enjoyed that mission. … It was super-nice for us to be able to kind of go in there and get people out of danger,” he said. “So, I think that was a little bit of a determining factor as far as being a firefighter and a paramedic.”
Ritcheson also talked about the amazing moments he finds in his work, including when he helped someone suffering from cardiac arrest and ended up seeing them a year later during a different call.
“You don’t get those moments very often, but those are what keep you going,” he said. “It’s about making a tangible difference in someone’s life.”
And Ritcheson keeps giving back. He helps to educate and inspire emerging firefighters. Through teaching classes and working with interns at the Cornelius Fire Department, he sees himself guiding people to help others.
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve probably put 50 or 60 people into the fire service from the Cornelius and Forest Grove area with our intern program, and knowing that you helped give that direction to see people fulfill their dreams is a huge piece of what I do,” he said.