Jefferson Awards: Volunteer Returns Favor By Aiding Fremont Fire Crews

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Fremont Fire Department volunteer Sonny Rath

Fremont Fire Department volunteer Sonny Rath

FREMONT (CBS 5) – If someone saves your life, how do repay that person? A Fremont man turned to a life of volunteer service.

When fire erupts in Fremont, Sonny Rath is there with supplies, day or night. Not for the fire—but for the firefighters. He offers drinks and snacks, and if the fire’s big, meals to sustain them.

“When that pager goes off at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and it’s raining or really cold, you wonder why you’re doing this because you’re not even getting paid for it or anything,” Sonny said. “You have to love what you’re doing.”

Sonny has served as volunteer coordinator of Fremont Fire’s Rehab Unit since it began in 2002. His wife, Susan, is co-coordinator. Deputy Fire Chief Geoff LaTendresse calls Sonny an exceptional volunteer.

“No matter what time of day, holiday, weekend, or what kind of weather, no matter what the circumstances, he’s there,” Geoff says.

Sonny started volunteering after his first contact with the Fremont Fire Department in 1989. He says paramedics saved his life.

“In 1989 I had my first heart attack and I went into full cardiac arrest,” he remembers. “The Fremont Fire Department paramedics brought me back to life. And his is my pay back to them.”

His “pay back” totals hundreds of volunteer hours a year. Along with Susan, Sonny has installed hundreds of free smoke detectors on behalf of the fire department since 1997. They serve senior citizens, the disabled and low income folks. Sonny keeps going despite his own health problems.

Fellow volunteer George Rodgers calls Sonny his hero.

“He’s only working with one third of his heart, but he has the biggest heart in the world,” George says. “He gives back to the community, gives back to the fire department, and I find that amazing.”

From disaster drills to massive police actions like SWAT deployments, Sonny’s there, offering refreshment from the fire department’s rehab truck.

Retired Chief Dan Lydon says it doesn’t matter where the firefighters have to go.

“Regardless whether it’s in the middle of the bay or the top of our hills, he’s there,” Dan reports. “Once the incident is somewhat taken care of, you can turn around, and one thing’s for sure: you’re going to see him.”

Sonny says it means a lot to him to be able to give back.

“I love these guys dearly,” he says.

So for serving fire fighters and the Fremont community at a pager’s notice, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Sonny Rath.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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