Tustin Police volunteer Rich Ruedas starts his Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday shift bright and early at 4:30 a.m.
His job? Making sure the TPD fleet of patrol vehicles is fueled, prepped and ready to go.
“I make sure they’re stocked,” said Ruedas, adding that he checks the trunks to make sure all the equipment is there, including emergency cones, water, flares and other necessary items officers may need in the field. “When I have the time, I’ll wash the cars.”
In addition to his volunteer work in fleet services, Ruedas – one of 13 volunteers at the agency – also participates in numerous agency events, including the Drug Take Back Day, where community members can drop off unused or expired medications.
In fact, Ruedas does so much volunteering for the agency that he’s only 80 hours short of reaching 11,000 volunteer hours.
“I’m really proud of it,” said the 73-year-old Ruedas. “I never set a goal for it, it just happened.”
Ruedas, who’s been volunteering at the TPD for a little over six years, said after retiring twice – once from the Marine Corps, and once from NBC News, where he worked as an assignment editor – his wife saw a sign for the TPD’s Citizens’ Academy and suggested he take it. After learning about the inner workings of the agency, he decided to apply as a volunteer. He started with the agency in March 2011.
“It keeps me alive,” said Ruedas, who is known as “Gunny” at the agency, in reference to his gunnery sergeant rank in the Marines. “I’ll be 74… You gotta stay active.”
And he does.
When he’s not maintaining the TPD’s patrol cars by getting them repaired at the City facility, or getting them washed (he shoots for getting six to 10 washed a day) or detailed (especially the K9 cars), he’s working events.
On April 29, Ruedas will come in at 7 a.m. to help with setup of the Drug Take Back event.
He also has other department events penciled in on his calendar, including the department’s Open House on June 17, Tustin Tiller Days weekend in October, the department Santa Sleigh in December, and several others in between.
When it comes time for the Santa Sleigh, Ruedas helps out in many different ways, including donning the red suit and white beard as Santa on several nights.
“It’s a lot of fun to see little kids, their smiles,” he said. “I really enjoy it – I really, really do.”
And the volunteering doesn’t end there.
Ruedas also will assist with the department’s Citizens’ Academy classes. And he’s responsible for the agency’s decoy car, which he drives to different assigned locations across the city to help discourage speeding and other driving infractions. He also assists at DUI checkpoints across the city.
Along with volunteer hours, Ruedas likes to bring a big smile to the agency.
“I get a kick with the guys,” he said.
At the Monday briefings, which he attends, he started up a “fun fact” or joke of the day for everyone. He asks a question like: What’s the smallest city in the world? (Answer: Vatican City). And he’ll also play music off of his iPad for everyone in attendance.
He enjoys his volunteer work, and it shows. He’s been named Volunteer of the Year six years in a row.
It’s fitting that his main duties these days is working in fleet services given that he used to race cars in the ’60s and ’70s. In fact, when he’s not working on keeping TPD’s fleet maintained, he’s working on his own car at home.