Firefighters pay tribute to Edgerly Island chief
Sunday, January 23, 2005
By CARLOS VILLATORO
Register Staff Writer
Dozens of firefighters from throughout the county gathered at the Edgerly
Island Fire Station Saturday afternoon to pay their respects to longtime
Edgerly Island Fire Chief Bob Putney Sr.
Putney, 81, joined the department in 1954. He assisted hundreds of Napa
County residents and helped train dozens of firefighters including his son,
Cambria Fire Chief Bob Putney Jr. during his career, which ended the day he
"This was definitely his passion," Putney said, as he stood in front of
tables adorned with medals, certificates, newspaper clippings and
photographs, which gave visitors a glimpse of his father's accomplishments.
Dona Niskern, Putney's daughter, said her father was passionate about
helping the community.
"I don't have the words to express what a wonderful person he was," she
said. "He was kind, considerate, and when he wanted something he would (get
His family, co-workers and neighbors came out to swap stories and reminisce
about the fire chief who poured his heart into the small river community
where he lived for most of his life.
"His whole life was in fire service," said Bob Foley, retired Napa City fire
captain who often helped Putney quell flooding around the island. "He was a
good guy (and) a great fire chief. I never knew he was a war hero."
Before settling down in Napa County, Putney lived in San Francisco and
served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. During his stint in the military he flew
many missions over Europe in a B-26 Martin Marauder. On one of the tables
set up inside the fire house Saturday displayed his military medals,
including a purple heart, a replica of the plane he flew and photographs of
Putney in his military days.
Bill Robertson, a retired Napa City fire captain, remembered responding to a
fatal accident on the island during the '70s, he said.
"Putney was on scene and was so glad to see the city there," Robertson said.
At the time, city fire crews were better outfitted than the Edgerly Island
crew. They were able to use their cutting tools to get the person out of the
wrecked automobile, Robertson said.
"He was just a good guy to work with," he said.
One of Putney's priorities during his tenure as fire chief was to make sure
the department was outfitted with the latest fire-fighting equipment. He
accomplished that goal by lobbying the county for funds. Putney also helped
form the Napa County Fire Department and served as the president of Napa
County Firefighters Association for seven years.
Putney's neighbors were among the many firefighters and family members at
"Bob was kind of the glue (in the community) for a long time," said Georgia
Anderson, who has lived in Edgerly Island since 1997. "Not everybody knew
each other, but everybody knew Bob."
She said Edgerly Island flooded in 1998, and Putney helped her fend off the
"There's all this stuff that happens out here and firefighters ... we depend
on them," said Karen Riddle, an Edgerly Island resident who also recalled
Putney helping her out during floods.
One of the highlights of the afternoon came when a caravan of fire engines
and water tenders -- which included units from all over the county --
arrived at the fire station to honor Putney.
Kevin Joell, Napa County battalion chief and training officer, arranged the
caravan to show respect for his comrade.
"We hope that our volunteers can carry on the dedication that he had towards
the Napa community," he said.
Perhaps Bill Robertson Jr., Napa County fire inspector, said it best when he
described the mood at the celebration.
"You are looking at an extended family," he said. "Whether paid or volunteer
we are all in this together."
The Edgerly Island Fire Department has 24 volunteers and covers the Carneros,
Las Amigas and Edgerly Island Fire Districts.