Kettle Falls' new mayor says public service is in his blood

Courtesy photo
Liv Stecker
Special to the S-E

Running for mayor of Kettle Falls was the logical next step for John Ridlington, as a man who has dedicated his life to public service. After 47 years in the fire service, and the last decade as the fire chief of Kettle Falls, transitioning into public office isn’t a giant leap, but it might involve putting out different kinds of fires.

Ridlington was raised, as he puts it, “on the other end of the pond” in Coulee Dam and Nespelem, where he grew up well acquainted with the issues that face residents of rural eastern Washington. He graduated WSU in 1969 and joined the Peace Corp for a two year assignment in Bolivia, where Ridlington learned a thing or two about “roughing it.” Living at 14 thousand feet of elevation in remote villages without access to modern conveniences, going without power and technology became routine for him in South America.

“I can’t describe how rough it was, how remote,” Ridlington said of his time in Bolivia.

When he returned back to the United States, Ridlington had a job waiting for him with the Forest Service in Klamath Falls, OR. He had sent out applications while he was out of the country, and the ranger district responded with a job offer that they sent him via ground mail. It arrived in Bolivia the day before Ridlington was scheduled to leave for home. He took the job, a choice he says he’s glad he made, nearly five decades later. The Forest employees were apologetic about the “rustic” conditions of his posting. It was very remote, they told him, cut off from civilization, and some employees didn’t last long in the position. Ridlington felt well equipped after his stint in Bolivia and the job was a good fit for him.

While he was in Klamath Falls, Ridlington joined the local volunteer fire department and also signed up for one of the first Emergency Medical Technician classes offered in Oregon State. He was so early on the roster that his Oregon EMT registry number is 144, in a field that now ranks nearly 200,000 EMTs registered through the state. In addition to structural fire training and his EMT certification, Ridlington was also trained in wildland firefighting for his work with the Forest Service.

Eventually, Ridlington transferred to the Ochoco National Forest in Prineville, and then in 1980 he began work on the Colville National Forest. He and his wife bought a house in Kettle Falls, where they have lived ever since. While he worked in a variety of fields for the Forest Service, including range, timber and minerals, Ridlington continuously volunteered for local volunteer fire service. 2018 and his election to the position of Mayor of Kettle Falls changed that for the first time in 47 years.

The full story is available online here or by picking up the Jan. 10, 2017 edition of the S-E.