When City of Stoughton fire chief Josh Ripp went to school to become a firefighter, no one in his family was surprised.
The Ripps, he told the Hub, have a legacy of volunteering with local fire and EMS departments around the state. When he was 12 years old, after Boy Scouts, he remembers attending training sessions with his parents – and by the time he was a senior in high school, he was already going on calls with the Village of Mazomanie fire department.
Ripp became the Stoughton Fire Department Chief on March 2, 2020, after volunteering with the department for five years, and exactly 18 years to the day that he started as the assistant chief in the Village of Maple Bluff on the eastern side of Lake Mendota.
Ripp succeeded fire chief Scott Wegner, who had been with the department since 1982.
He leads a team with deputy fire chief Mark Miller, fire technician Mason Barber and 33 professional volunteers. Together, they respond to 360 calls per year, in an area of roughly 25,000 people across the City of Stoughton and portions of the Townships of Dunn, Dunkirk, Pleasant Springs and Rutland.
And since his job started nine days before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Ripp has had to simultaneously balance learning the job’s duties and navigating a global health crisis.
His job has consisted of implementing protocol to keep the firefighters and the community safe, in addition to regular duties including department operations, managing the team, applying for grants for new equipment and the annual budget.
And because Ripp is also a squad leader for the Stoughton Area EMS on Tuesdays and every fifth weekend, he estimates he did not leave the City of Stoughton – other than for EMS calls — from the months of March to July 2020.
Partially, because when the alarm sounds, he still hops in a fire truck and reports to the scene.
“When the pager goes off, we find out what the issue is, we get there and it’s our job to figure out — with all of our skills and training and tools — to figure out how we’re going to help that person,” Ripp told the Hub. “That is what we do.”
Before volunteering with the SFD, Ripp was the fire chief for seven years with the Maple Bluff Fire Department and has worked in state departments such as the Department of Justice, the Department of Military Affairs and the Office of Emergency Communications.
But before graduating high school, he was volunteering in his hometown of Mazomanie, where he remembers getting a call as a senior in high school where someone in his graduating class was in a serious car accident.
“My dad woke me up in the middle of the night and one of my classmates had been in a pretty serious crash and it happened quarter-mile outside of the district where I would have responded for the fire department,” Ripp said.
Fortunately, his classmate survived and was able to walk across the stage at graduation, Ripp said. But similar to Stoughton, when you know a community well and have to respond to emergency calls — there is always a fear it will be someone you know, Ripp added.
“It happens more often than you’d think,” he said. “In addition to the good parts, there’s always calls that bother you and are just hard based on what happens during the call, especially when people are hurt severely,” he later added.
But with those bad calls comes the good ones, too, he said.
He remembers one call where a horse had fallen, and the owners could not get it up. Knowing horses can only lie down for limited amounts of time before their organs stop being able to function, and they die, the owners called the fire department for help. Eventually, with enough firefighters and people from animal rescue the team lifted the horse up with ropes and it survived.
“Any of the calls that we go on where I know that we’ve made a difference, no matter how small it is we’ve got in there, we helped someone and their life is better for us leaving -- that is the happy part,” he said.