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Bob Putney, Marauder Man

Firefighters pay tribute to Edgerly Island chief
Sunday, January 23, 2005

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 died.

"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 it)."

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 the celebration.

"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 water.

"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.

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