Gainesville Fire Rescue’s latest recruit stands at about the height of a fire hydrant.
GFR named 7-year-old Riley Ruppert-Richendollar an honorary firefighter Thursday morning at Fire Station 1 in Downtown Gainesville.
After touring the station, Riley – who calls himself Rescue Riley – knocked down weighted cones with a fire hose and doused flames with a mini fire extinguisher.
When he isn’t battling fires, Riley is battling a brain tumor.
Scott Ruppert, one of his fathers, said Riley finds joy in big red trucks and wailing sirens, and that he visits a fire station every Friday after his chemotherapy session.
Riley recently enjoyed Spring Break, and his parents said he always makes the honor roll despite missing school one day a week.
He started visiting fire stations in his hometown of Jacksonville at the age of 2, Ruppert said, and a station named him an honorary firefighter there in June.
Ever since he started watching a TV show called “Fireman Sam” years ago, he and his father collected all the show memorabilia they could find.
“As we started to run out of things you could buy at a toy store…we said ‘well, let’s do the next best thing – let’s bring him to a fire house,’” Ruppert said.
Thursday, Riley ate a burger with the GFR crew and climbed into the tower of a fire truck. The young firefighting enthusiast donned his own jacket, overalls, helmet, gas mask and cloth hood. Though fire stations donated some of the gear, much of it was purchased or crafted.
Robert Richendollar, Riley’s other father, said he takes his son to a fire station almost every weekend.
“When I feel bad, these guys make me happy,” Riley said.
Riley’s chemotherapy sessions are scheduled for 52 weeks, and July 29 will be his final session if all goes well, Ruppert said.
When his family asked what he wished for most, Riley said he wanted his life back.