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The Redlands Fire Department this week named Capt. Richard Sessler as the department’s Firefighter of the Year.

Sessler entered the fire service as a fire explorer with the Rancho Cucamonga Fire Protection District in 1999.  Two years later he left the explorer program to become a volunteer firefighter with the Riverside County Fire Department, attending the 42nd Basic Fire Academy and completing his Associate of Science Degree at Crafton Hills College. 

Soon after graduation, Sessler was employed as a seasonal firefighter with the United States Forest Service and was assigned to the San Bernardino National Forest Mountain Top District.  His hard work and dedication were quickly recognized and in 2000 Sessler was selected to join the Del Rosa Hotshots, an elite team of wildland firefighters.  It was during his time with the Hotshots that Sessler’s leadership and work ethic grew and flourished.  Recalling his commitment to the fire service and his fellow firefighters, Del Rosa Hotshot Superintendent Jim Tomaselli said, “He was well known amongst his fellow firefighters as someone that could be counted on and trust him with your life.”

Sessler continued to move-up steadily through the ranks of the Forest Service and was selected as a founding member of the newly created Mill Creek Hotshots in 2002.  Remembering Sessler’s service as a Squad Boss leading a team of firefighters, Mill Creek Hotshot Superintendent John Ellison said, “Richie carried the cornerstone of the Hotshots — duty, honor and respect — to the highest levels. His leadership style and concern for his squad’s well-being was unprecedented.” In 2003, Sessler was promoted to Engineer and assigned to the City Creek station. 

During his time with the Forest Service, Sessler attended and completed numerous challenging training classes and programs in a wide range of fire suppression fields.  Sessler was also repeatedly recognized for his service and is a three-time recipient of the United States Department of Agriculture Certificate of Merit and State of Florida Distinguished Service Award. 

In 2005, Sessler left the Forest Service to join the Redlands Fire Department.  In 2008, Sessler was promoted to Fire Engineer and to Fire Captain in 2009.  During this time, Sessler obtained his bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Grand Canyon University and his Hazardous Materials Technician qualification. He also attended the Riverside County Truck Academy and Auto Extrication Academy.  In 2012, he completed his master’s degree in Administration and Management from the University of Redlands and was nominated by his peers to join the esteemed Whitehead Leadership Society.

Sessler’s involvement in the department extends far beyond his own professional development, as much of his work is focused on supporting the development and advancement of his fellow firefighters. Shortly after his promotion to captain, Sessler became a Shift Training Captain.  This position plans, coordinates and delivers essential training to personnel assigned to the shift.  He also represents Redlands and other East Valley fire agencies on a regional board for the California Incident Command Certification System, which evaluates and certifies fire personnel for positions within the Incident Command System and ensures that those individuals can effectively manage complex emergency responses.  Additionally, Sessler has served in the position of Training Specialist with California Incident Management Team No. 5.  This team responds to emergency incidents across the country, ranging from hurricanes and tornados to earthquakes and fires.  In this role, Capt. Sessler mentored trainees, providing guidance and coordinating the team’s incident responses.

On the emergency scene is where Capt. Sessler’s knowledge, skills and abilities are most clearly displayed.  While responding to the Sawtooth Fire in the Morongo Valley, an unpredictable and rapidly approaching fire front was bearing down on numerous homes.  Sessler’s quick and efficient direction assisted in saving many of those homes.  Similarly, while responding to the Edgemont Fire in the Sunset Hills area, Sessler’s command presence helped response teams successfully deploy a complex backfiring operation, saving several homes and hundreds of acres of vegetation. 

Most recently Sessler responded to the North Pass Fire in the Mendocino National Forest where his ability to coordinate and lead firefighters on an extremely stubborn timber fire in tremendously difficult terrain was noted by his branch director. His actions and leadership saved multiple residences and thousands of acres of precious watershed. Sessler’s current supervisor, Battalion Chief Jim Topoleski,  describes him as a “quiet leader who listens and earns the trust of his employees by doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. On the fire ground he remains calm and methodical.”

In addition to his work with the department, Sessler also serves his fellow firefighters and the community as an Executive Board Member for the Redlands Professional Firefighters Association. His work with the Professional Firefighters Association includes his involvement in the Honor Guard, the Lighting the Way Event Committee, the Redlands Firefighters Car Show, the Red Lights and Sirens Dinner with Martha Green, the Associates of the Redlands Bowl Cooking with Martha event, the Walk for Life, Community Clean-up days, and Habitat for Humanity.

While Capt. Sessler’s commitment to the department and the residents of Redlands is clear, he emphasizes that his most important commitment is to his wife, Tammy, and their three children, Anthony, Tyler and Khloe.

“You know, I love my job,” says Sessler. “I love doing what I get paid to do, but my job is second to my family. I just love them a bunch more and that really is what matters.”

The Fire Department’s Firefighter of the Year is chosen by the Department’s executive team with participation from department firefighters.

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