Nov. 11, 1976 — April 18, 2018
Randy C. Rider spent just a short time at Erie Community College after graduating from Kenmore West High School.
"He got into the working world right away," said his brother, Brett Rider.
But Randy Rider went on to spend thousands of hours in classrooms and training grounds across the country, honing his skills so he could share them with others in his volunteer work as a firefighter and officer of the Sheridan Park Volunteer Fire Co. in the Town of Tonawanda and in his job as an Erie County Fire Instructor.
Mr. Rider, who was widely known and respected for his dedication to training and inspiring other firefighters, died early Wednesday in Kenmore Mercy Hospital after being stricken at home. He was 41.
Mr. Rider shared his passion for the craft of firefighting with members of his own department, students from dozens of local departments he guided through challenging Firefighter 1 classes, and the thousands of people he met at training courses across the country.
"He was passionate about training," said Brett Rider. "He embraced the newer firefighters and considered anybody who walked through the door of any fire department a brother or sister. As long as they had the passion to learn, he would go out of his way to work with them and help them."
As news of his death spread through the firefighting community, the outpouring of support and condolences was nearly overwhelming, said Brett Rider, also a past chief and officer at Sheridan Park Fire Co. That reaction was echoed by Sheridan Park's current Chief James Chatham, as well as Mr. Rider's wife, Melissa.
"His life was the fire service and his family, and I think he loved them equally," said Melissa Rider. They married on April 7, 2012, and have two children, Cheyanne, 11, and Colton, 4. "I knew he had a lot of friends, but I don't think he could have known how many people cared so much about him," she said.
Born in Tonawanda, Mr. Rider was the son of Randall Rider of Tonawanda and Maureen Rider of Clarence, and the stepson of Kristine Rider of Tonawanda. He was a longtime employee of the Town of Tonawanda Highway Department, where he was a motor equipment operator. He had worked as an Erie County Fire Instructor since 2007.
At the time of his death, he was serving as first assistant chief at Sheridan Park, after serving a pair of two-year terms as chief starting in 2006 and in 2016. He and Brett were fourth-generation members of Sheridan Park, following their father, grandfather and great-grandfather into the department. Mr. Rider's father is a commissioner and safety officer at Sheridan Park.
"Firefighting was his hobby, everything was the fire service with him," said his brother. Mr. Rider also upheld his family's tradition of rooting for the New York Yankees, despite Brett Rider's support of the Boston Red Sox. "It was a comical rivalry," said Brett Rider. "He was a very, very funny guy, with a quick wit. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and he would try to find the good in everybody, but if he disagreed with you, he would have no problem telling you either.
"He was a gentle giant and considered everybody an equal."
Mr. Rider had just concluded a term as president of the Erie County Fire Chiefs Mutual Aid Organization. In that role, he created a new Presidents Award for Excellence in Training, which, at the conclusion of his term, was awarded to Sheridan Park Volunteer Fire Co. for logging the most training hours in Erie County in 2017.
"That was his idea, and he was so proud to receive that on behalf of Sheridan Park," said Brett Rider. "He was just beaming when they surprised him with that."
Sheridan Park Chief James Chatham, a high school friend of Mr. Rider, said they joined the department within months of each other when they turned 18. "In fact, we ditched a class in senior year to go fight a grass fire," Chatham said, chuckling.
Chatham called the response to the department's loss "overwhelming." At the firehouse, where the flag flew at half staff, he said, "Memories, support, condolences have come in internationally," including an outpouring from Sheridan Park's sister company, the Fort Erie Central Fire Station. "He has taken training all over the country, and everyone he met, all those relationships he made, those people are all expressing their regret and condolences."
"He was very jovial, loved to have a good time, loved to train," said Chatham.
In addition to his parents, brother, wife and young children, Mr. Rider is survived by two older sons, Christian and Mackenzie, who belong to the Clarence Fire Co.; another brother, Robert Rider; his mother-in-law, Ann Wojcik, her husband, Miguel Santiago; a sister-in-law, Heather Brown, her husband, Anthony, and their daughters, Lilian and Morgan.
A countywide fire service memorial, at which the public will be welcome, will start at 11 a.m. Saturday at Herbert Hoover Middle School, 249 Thorncliff Road, Town of Tonawanda. The funeral procession will cross under an aerial ladder arch.