Ronald Newport (Ron)
Retired Captain, Orange County Fire Authority
Born September 20, 1943 - Deceased May 10, 2021
Ron Newport was born in Nevada, Missouri in 1943. He moved to San Diego, California in 1948 with his brother, sister and parents. Ron quickly adopted the Southern California lifestyle. Ron received his education in San Diego attending Crawford High School and San Diego State University. As a youth, Ron became interested in the environment. Two of his interests were forestry and firefighting.
In 1963 Ron was hired by the California Division of Forestry. His initial assignment was with a dozer crew where he assisted in building fire roads, inspecting dams and learning the wildland firefighting trade.
In 1965, Ron was called to serve his country in the United States Army. Ron completed basic training and was stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana as an orthopedic medic. His job included setting, casting, splinting, pinning, and treating soldier’s fractures and other orthopedic related injuries. Three months later, Ron’s brother was called to serve his country. His brother was deployed to Vietnam and was unfortunately killed in action while performing Special Forces duty.
After being discharged from the Army, Ron went back to work for the California Division of Forestry (CDF). His initial assignment as a seasonal firefighter was in San Diego County. In 1967 Ron was hired permanently as a firefighter in CDF/Orange County Fire Dept. Ron became a member of the crash fire rescue crew at the Orange County Airport (now called John Wayne Airport). In 1968 CDF/Orange County Fire placed into service its first aerial ladder truck. Ron was assigned to learn, train then instruct others on this new piece of equipment.
In 1969 Ron was promoted to Fire Apparatus Engineer, and was assigned to CDF/San Bernardino County. In 1970 Ron’s engine was dispatched as mutual aid to a fire in the Yucca Valley Fire District. Upon arrival the two-man engine crew was faced with a 90,000 gallon liquefied propane gas tank fire. Ron’s crew was assigned to structure protection with Ron and his firefighter taking a defensive position to protect the existing buildings several hundred feet away. Shortly after setting up, the tank exploded. Ron and his firefighter were covered in liquid fuel which ignited, and they were both severely burned. Ron and his firefighter suffered 2nd, 3rd, and 4th degree burns. Ron’s burns covered 60% of his body. After 8 days of battling his injuries Ron’s firefighter died. Ron spent 1 ½ years recovering from his injuries and underwent over 28 reconstructive and skin graft surgeries.
Confronted with the choice to leave or return to his chosen profession with the fire service, Ron chose to continue his career, and returned to full duty in 1972.
By 1973 Ron promoted to the rank of Fire Captain and was assigned to the second busiest ariel ladder truck in Orange County, in Laguna Hills. This unit carried the jaws of life, technical rescue equipment, rappelling kit, trench and shoring tools, roof ventilation saws and pneumatic lifting systems, and a Life Net. He also had other specialized equipment and a large compliment of ladders. By this time, Ron was in the training cadre of the department as a working Captain. Aside from his normal station duties, he made it his mission to share any and all experiences and training he had learned as a firefighter. He became the “go to guy” for training and safety in the CDF/Orange County Fire Dept., the fifth largest fire department in California.
Ron instructed Fire Explorers, Paid and Volunteer Firefighters of all ranks in live fire behavior, and safe but efficient firefighting tactics and strategies under live fire conditions. Ron and his team, representing Ca. State Fire Training, instructed at over 300 separate buildings being burned numerous times for training firefighters over the course of 20+ years, throughout California and the Eastern Sierra. Ron was one of the most prolific Instructors in California Fire Service History, and known for his big stick, and intense instruction techniques.
Many may not even remember Ron's name, but every firefighter that ever encountered Ron in any fire training experience remembers that big gruff guy with the big stick, to ensure you were paying attention, and to ensure you never raised your head too high during live smoke/fire instruction.
Ron’s dedication to fire ground safety and awareness was responsible for preserving the lives of many firefighters, including personally saving the life of the future Fire Chief of the Orange Fire Authority from certain death in a back draft situation during one significant firefight together.
Ron’s assignments were always challenging. Whether it was swift water rescues during the 1969 Laguna Canyon and Aliso Creek Floods and Mudslide, over-the-side rescues on the Ortega Hwy., high rise fires, radiation monitoring at San Onofre, the 1993 Laguna Fire conflagration in Laguna Beach Ca. or countless other emergencies, he was “The Rock”. During his career he responded to 25,000+ emergency calls. His actions are responsible for preventing tragedy to both the citizens as well as his co-workers. His “above and beyond” work ethic was an example of a life well spent.
Close personal friends of Ron explained that over the course of his life, Ron had many near-death incidents both on duty, and off, which most people would not have pulled through. Ron had one of the strongest wills to overcome adversity, of any person I know. His mind over body abilities would confound his doctors. Most every time, Ron would disagree with his doctors’ prognosis, would predict his own recovery timeframe to a specific date, and predict his healing abilities, and then walk away from death, on or before that date he set. Because of his unusual mind over body abilities Ron volunteered his time for over 30 years, traveling to counsel numerous Firefighters who have been severely burned throughout the Western US, helping them mentally survive and recover from their burn injuries.
When asked why he expended so much energy on others during his 40 year career, his response was: “I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through what I went through”.
Don’t think that when Ron officially retired in 2003 he was done giving back! If you ever watched the Rose Bowl Parade or any major event, you would see Ron on the California State Firemans Association 1902 horse drawn steamer fire engine team, where he volunteered heavily for 22 years. He was still educating the public about fire and life safety awareness up until about 2019. For many years, Ron enjoyed sharing his time and love for snow skiing, also volunteering as an Instructor for the Adaptive Ski School, in Big Bear, CA.
In 2016, the Sons of the American Revolution awarded Ron Newport the Medal and Certificate of Lifetime Service to the Citizens of Orange County and the United States. Ron Newport was a true American and Patriot!
Ron married his long time friend, Merrilee in 1978, and had one daughter, Dani Newport Barker born in 1980, now married to Blair Barker, and had their son, Boston Barker. Ron loved his family time, and attended every softball and soccer game, dance recital, and most all school functions during Dani’s years growing up. Ron enjoyed his time off with his family and friends water skiing and snow skiing and houseboating. He played rugby many years, golf, and Senior Softball with the La Mesa League, along with many other sports.
Ron is survived by his wife Merrilee Newport, daughter Dani Newport Barker, Son in Law Blair Barker, Grandson Boston Barker, and Ron’s Sister Linda Nason, and many other loving family members. Ron was predeceased by his parents Dean and Freda Newport, and brother Larry Newport.
Rest in Peace, Brother Ron Newport! You will never be forgotten!