Friday, November 24, 2006

Do what you like, like what you do

John Rathfon extending 16-year dream

Express Staff Writer

John Rathfon, a senior lieutenant with the Ketchum Fire Department, stands outside City Hall. Rathfon came here with a friend to have fun for a year?in 1990. He calls his positions with the fire department and the ski patrol the greatest jobs in the valley. Photo by David N. Seelig

As far as John Rathfon sees it, he has the two best jobs in the Wood River Valley.

The Davis, Calif., native pulled into town in 1990, accompanied by his college roommate.

"We were going to take a year off," he said.

Sixteen years later, Rathfon, an EMT/paramedic with the Ketchum Fire Department, has a senior lieutenant's rank and is gearing up for his 17th season with the Sun Valley Ski Patrol.

"Most of the full-time staff—five of 11 of us—work on ski patrol," he said. "That might be the greatest job in the valley, and this (at the Fire Department) might be the second greatest."

The first year in Ketchum he worked in construction, with an eye toward joining the ski patrol. A job opening in guest services, which was under the auspices of the ski patrol, eventually provided the springboard he was seeking.

While his friend left at the one-year mark, others took his place. The group of them inhabited an old, storied cabin dubbed "Eagle Creek Lodge" north of Ketchum.

"By the time my roommate left, there were seven or eight of us guys living there," he said. "Every one of them went back to California to get real jobs. I liked it here. I was making a living doing what I wanted to do."

In 16 years, Rathfon has witnessed plenty of changes.

"Back then, none of the lodges were here," he said. "There was no snow-making. I've been here a good long time to see how much money the Holdings (owners of Sun Valley Resort) have put in."

An opening on the ski patrol provided him full-time employment on the mountain for five years, and he guided river trips for 2M Raft Co. in the summers.

People he met on Bald Mountain would lead him down a new path.

Three Fire Department personnel were assigned to the mountain to respond to injuries, Rathfon said.

"One of those guys, Ron Parsons, suggested I become a volunteer," he said. "So I did. One thing led to another, and I ended up living at Greenhorn Fire Station for three years."

In March 1996, he became a full-time department employee. He bought a house in Hailey, ensuring his place in the valley.

Parsons, along with Steve Garman and Dave Bell, were instrumental in securing Rathfon's respect for the job.

"They are good people," he said. "I respected what they did. The more I learned about it, the more it seemed like something I wanted to do."

The benefits were good, and "10 days a month isn't bad, either," he said.

Those 10 days can be packed with excitement, and sometimes difficulties, "everything from knee injuries to CPR or multiple trauma," he said.

Three calls per day is average; seven to 12 calls is a busy day. "Then you still have to do all the paperwork," he said.

During the winter, the department can respond to between 120 and 150 calls each season.

"The ski runs keep us busy," he said.

"This job, it's always something different," he said of the fire department. "Probably my favorite part is being able to make a difference in people's lives. It doesn't happen all the time. (But) if I save one person in my 20-some-odd-year career, it's been worth it. And I'm way ahead of that."

Like most people who work in emergency situations, he said he's only as good as those around him.

"None of us do it alone," he said. "The teamwork comes in there."

The sense of camaraderie at work is replicated to some extent after hours.

"I like the smallness of (the valley)," he said. "For good and bad, everybody knows everybody. But it's also nice to have that closeness and that community feeling."

His two daughters, Katelyn, 7, and Allison, 5, keep him active and may one day outpace their busy dad.

"We go skiing, hiking, biking, fishing, camping, gardening, hang out in the backyard climbing trees," he said. "They do keep me busy, and it's fun."

A men's league baseball team manages to find its way into Rathfon's schedule as well.

"I guess I'm into everything," he said.

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