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In 1978, the Jacksonville Fire Department (JFD) expanded from three firefighters on-duty per shift, to four… two of the firefighters who were hired as part of this expansion were Jay Hooker and Randy Ragsdale. Hooker, who still serves on the force as part-time, says that one thing which stands out about Captain Ragsdale after all these years is that he is ‘still the same guy’. “He doesn’t let anything get to him,” says Hooker, “He is able to put anything negative aside and brings his best every day.”
Well, at least except for one notable incident… Years ago, Ragsdale had just finished a shift and was showering when Hooker called, and Ragsdale’s wife picked up the phone. “I explained to her that we were short,’ says Hooker, “he was the only guy we could count on, and I asked her if she could please tell him that we had an ill firefighter and needed him to return”. Ragsdale’s wife was initially hesitant, until Hooker made sure to emphasize to her that there would be a nice overtime allowance involved. Uncharacteristic of the mild-mannered giant, Ragsdale returned to the station ‘red as a tomato’ shortly after the phone call. “We had a good time with that one!”
JFD Chief Keith Fortner describes Ragsdale as ‘tall, humble, and well spoken’. “He doesn’t speak often, but when he does everyone listens.” Says Fortner, “He was the first Captain I reported to and was a significant part of my training.” Fortner, who has been with the department since 2002 becoming Chief in 2014, has many fond memories of working alongside and since becoming Ragsdale’s leader.
A trend which stands out is Ragsdale’s resistance to technology. “About 18-years ago the City started using direct-deposit for our paychecks.” Fortner says, “You had to manually sign up, and he made it very clear that he wasn’t going to do that”. Upon becoming Chief, every-other Friday Fortner had a routine of walking to the human resources office to physically pick-up Ragsdale’s check. “I would always go just after lunch time… ‘It became routine to where he would wait with me until we had all finished lunch, so he could make sure that I made the walk.” About a year-ago, Ragsdale and Fortner were just about to finish lunch and Fortner remarked to him, “Don’t worry Captain, I’m headed over to pick-up your check”. To Fortner’s bewilderment, Ragsdale replied, “No need Chief, it’s already in the bank” ... According to Fortner, Ragsdale is now a huge proponent of the system, among his favorite benefits of which, are that on pay-days off Ragsdale ‘can relax while getting a check’.
Another example of this was Ragsdale’s resistance to the department’s transition to smartphones starting about a decade ago. “He was very insistent on keeping his flip-phone.” Fortner fondly recalls, “We would communicate a lot by text, and he was the one guy you had to always remember to call. About a year ago, I received a text from ‘Captain Ragsdale’ and thought someone was playing a joke!”
EMS Coordinator Alicia Whetsell recalls a conversation she had with Ragsdale’s son John. John described a conversation he was having with his Dad while driving, when the Apple assistant Siri interrupted to say “Sorry, I couldn’t hear that.” Ragsdale was startled and apparently thought there was someone else in the car!
Whetsell describes Ragsdale as someone who everyone feels is approachable, and someone whom you ‘can talk with about just about anything.’ Apparently, even the King was remarked by his even-temperedness and equitable treatment. In a business started by his father after returning from WWII, Ragsdale runs a local peach orchard on the side which George Strait came to visit on his way through town. In a casual conversation after purchasing peaches, Strait jokingly asked “Do you know who I am?” Ragsdale replied to the amused country legend that he did indeed.
Ragsdale is currently readying his orchard with his son to host cattle, and he plans to spend the next 10-15 years ‘very occupied’ with farming, hunting, and fishing Lake Jacksonville. He has two sons and one daughter, and three grandchildren. “Sometimes when the weather is bad you want to quit.” Ragsdale says of running an orchard, “You just need to have the resilience to keep on going.”