A TRIED AND TRUE COMMUNITY SERVANT: Oro Valley resident Fred Roof celebrates more than 40 years as a police and fireman - The Explorer: Import

A TRIED AND TRUE COMMUNITY SERVANT: Oro Valley resident Fred Roof celebrates more than 40 years as a police and fireman

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Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2002 12:00 am | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

The history of Oro Valley's Police Department begins with Fred Roof as does its reputation as a speed trap town.

Roof's place in history as the town's first police chief was established as a matter of convenience. Establishing Oro Valley as a speed trap town was as purposeful an act as Roof would ever take in a career that has spanned more than 40 years as a cop and fireman.

Residents even back then in the mid-1970s were demanding something be done to halt the sudden rash of traffic fatalities caused by out-of-town drivers speeding through town and up and down Oracle Road. Someone driving 75 in a 45 mile an hour zone was not unusual and people doing 55 or 60 in a 20 mile an hour zone was routine, Roof said in a recent interview.

"It was a rural area out here and people felt they could do whatever they wanted," he said. "We tried to get the message out to them that they couldn't. Some people never got the message until we made believers of them. For nearly nine years after there wasn't a single fatality. You could watch people driving up to the Oro Valley town sign and immediately hitting their brakes." They still do.

That safety record is one Roof still takes pride in, but if the truth be known, he probably would have preferred never being asked to become a cop. Fighting fires was and always will be his first love.

As a kid growing up in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., Roof used to watch each time a firehorn sounded and the volunteer fireman who lived next door put a little blue light on the roof of his car as he took off to fight a fire. As time went on, the fireman would give Roof a list of pullboxes, those old boxes where you'd go to the corner and pull a lever on the box to send a punch card to a fire station telling firefighters there was a fire in that block.

Friendships with the firemen continued to develop until one day in 1951 Roof's family moved to Tucson, a move Roof remembers well.

"I was lost," he recalled. "I came from lush, green lands to God forsaken brown country."

He joined an Explorer Scout post affiliated with the Catalina Fire Protection Co., one of several private fire departments then in Pima County, and through the Scout group learned wildland forest and structural firefighting and the rudiments of law enforcement through the Pima County Sheriff's Department.

At the age of 18 he joined the Navy reserves while working in the dry cleaning business his parents had established in Tucson, then joined the Navy on active duty in 1957.

Two years later he was out of the Navy and back in his family's dry cleaning business when friends with the Tucson Fire Department started egging him on to join the department because he had a fairly good knowledge of fire suppression and fire prevention, he said.

"Every time they made an offer, my parents would give me a pay raise to keep me in the dry cleaning business," he said.

At the time, in the late 1960s, there was no fire protection in Pima County. Annexations by Tucson forced private companies out of business and if anything happened a Civil Defense truck was sent out to either wet down the ashes or fight the fire, Roof said. The city of Tucson wouldn't leave city boundaries because the city's attitude was that if people wanted fire protection, they should annex into the city. This was their major marketing tool, he said.

In 1961, however, the same year Roof married his wife Jo Ann, a young man died in a fire in Heritage Hills, near Tanque Verde and Sabino Canyon roads, and Waldon Burr, the Pima County Sheriff at the time, called on the owner of Rural/ Metro in Scottsdale for help. Expansion wasn't in the company's plans, but the owner agreed to send down some fire equipment to help out just for the holidays. A study was then done to see if people would support a private fire department and in 1962 Rural/Metro began operations in Pima County with a single station at Tanque Verde and Wrightstown Road.

In 1962 Roof became a reserve firefighter while remaining in the dry cleaning business. There were just six full-time firefighters and 25 reserves covering the entire county from the Wrightstown station, compared with the 147 full-time and 50 reserves covering the county now.

Roof went fulltime in 1973 and was promoted to lieutenant with Rural/Metro in 1974 and assigned the additional task of conducting security patrols with a one-ton pickup truck with 200 gallons of water, a hose and a pump.

As that aspect of Rural/Metro's business was growing, newly incorporated Oro Valley couldn't get anyone to provide police protection and didn't have enough money to start their own department, Roof recalled.

Rural/ Metro offered to provide a security guard type service and eventually to set up a police department for the town. Roof was given the job and a contract was signed between Rural/Metro and Oro Valley.

The department began with 2 1/2 full-time equivalent employees covering the town 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The emphasis was on residential patrol and high visibility and the cops drove fire department green pickup trucks and a black and white pickup.

The state stepped in in 1975, however, saying that private police departments weren't allowed in Arizona. So Roof was loaned by Rural/Metro to the town and became an Oro Valley employee and its first cop. Other certified officers with Rural/Metro then came to Oro Valley from other parts of the state to help out until Roof could complete his police academy training and become certified.

"Since we only had three people to cover the town, you did it all. You did the oil changes on your truck, you washed them, put the radios in and you patrolled and answered all complaints," Roof said.

During this time Roof held his position as a reserve lieutenant with Rural/Metro and continued to fight fires as well "because fighting fires was always my first love," he said. He stayed with the Oro Valley Police Department until 1981. Rural/Metro had an established communications system and owned all the vehicles, which were being leased to the town. His job was to enable Oro Valley's Police Department to purchase its own communications system and equipment and he did.

Roof said he first began thinking about returning to fire duties after a burglary in the home of the town marshal during which police were fired upon. One of the intruders was captured, but not before crashing his car into one of the police trucks as he tried to escape.

After leaving the Oro Valley Police Department, Roof was assigned to oversee security operations for Rural/Metro in Maricopa County and was named assistant security director for the entire company in late 1982.

He returned to dealing with fires in 1988 when he was asked to fill in for a departing chief of Rural/Metro's fire operations in Green Valley. He then served as district fire chief in Green Valley for six years and as district fire chief for Rural/Metro in the Fountain Hills area near Phoenix from 1996 to 2001.

Now, at 62, he's handling special projects for Rural/Metro in Pima County, setting up new fire stations, buying new equipment and assisting other fire chiefs.

Roof said he still gets to go to a fire every once in a while, but noted how nice it is not to have to go out in the middle of the night, to have the choice of rolling over and going back to sleep if he wants to.

Roof said what he's enjoyed most about his career has been "preaching the Gospel of fire protection, that it's everybody's job to take care of themselves." He also takes pride in that wherever he's served he's done all he can to see that the community received "the biggest bang for its buck" in terms of services.

Roof has special kudos for his wife for "tolerating my marriage to Rural/ Metro." It's been "an undue hardship for her with my many absences," he said.

Roof refuses to retire saying he's "having too much fun." And while he fights few fires now, there's still the twitch of an old war horse when the siren sounds.

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