TIPP CITY — It could be said that the heart and soul of volunteer fire departments are its members — the veterans providing a steadying influence for the younger members.
Nowhere is that more apparent than with the Tipp City Fire Department, where they are blessed to have among them a family of firefighters, one generation carrying on the legacy of the one before.
Stephen Stocker, 76, joined the fire service in Tipp City in January of 1972. His son-in-law, Ken Putnam, 56, joined not only the family, but also the fire department nearly two decades later. Putnam’s son — Stocker’s grandson — followed in their footsteps and joined in 2012. Between the three, they now bring more than 80 years of experience in public service to their community.
For Stocker, becoming a firefighter in Tipp City seemed a destiny. “I grew up catty-corner across the block from the downtown firehouse,” said Stocker, who retired from Process Equipment Company after 45 years. “We weren’t allowed to follow the fire trucks, so the neighbor kid and I would ride our bicycles through the alley and see where the trucks were going.”
Stocker was also one of the Tipp City community’s original rescue squad members. He and another community member approached the council about the need for ambulance service. At the time, the funeral home provided ambulance transportation to those in need. The firefighter’s efforts paid off when, in 1975, Tipp City began dedicated ambulance service using certified EMT and paramedics from their community.
When Ken Putnam married Stocker’s daughter, Stocker and his son, Todd, were both active with the fire department. Ken joined his father-in-law and brother-in-law in 1989.
For grandson Keagen Putnam, the decision to become a firefighter was an easy one. “I begged and begged to get on when I turned 18,” Keagen said. “He (his dad) told me to wait a year, go to college and see how that works out.”
Following his dad’s advice, Keagen waited, finally joining in February of 2012, starting the Sinclair Community College Firefighter Academy and earning his Firefighter 1 certification.
Ken Putnam is employed by Tipp City, so he is nearly always available for the fire calls. He also works for the Frings and Bayliff Funeral Home, also located in Tipp City.
Keagen works for Miami County Educational Services as a school liaison and is working on his degree and teaching certificate. He also serves as a baseball coach for Tipp City High School.
As for the topic of conversations at family gatherings, Stocker said, “It usually (firefighting) doesn’t monopolize conversation.” All three men agree on one thing: while the fire department is a big part of their life, “Family comes first.”
When asked about memorable moments in their firefighting careers, Stocker replied, “Where would you like me to start?”
And while the memories of tragedy stick with the veteran firefighters throughout their lives, this family of firemen are quick to point out the joys of working together.
Ken Putnam said, “That’s like the fire that we had down here on Third Street on Fourth of July, I was the pump operator, he (Keagen) was on the nozzle, he (Stocker) was the accountability guy. We all had a part in that.”
Only time will tell if future generations of Stocker/Putnam family members will follow into the firefighting profession, but the odds are in Tipp City’s favor.