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Service, Dedication Saluted At Pitassi/Van Houten Station
Escalon Community Ambulance stalwarts Tina Van Houten, left, and Mike Pitassi share a smile as they listen to ECA Board President Jerry Emery offer remarks on Sunday at the naming of the ambulance building on Ullrey Avenue as the Pitassi/Van Houten Station. Marg Jackson/The Times

Same building, new name.

A special ceremony on Sunday morning saw the dedication of and official re-naming of the Escalon Community Ambulance station on Ullrey Avenue – it is now known as the Pitassi/Van Houten Station.

The naming comes in honor of longtime ECA leaders, Chief Mike Pitassi and Lead Medic Tina Van Houten, both of whom have served the community for years. ECA Board President Jerry Emery said a “unanimous decision” of the board resulted in the naming of the station.

Held in conjunction with a pancake breakfast, free to members, the ceremony also came on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, giving those attending the event reason to pause, reflect and remember that day. The pancake breakfast was offered for the first time this year, culminating a membership drive for the locally supported ECA, and that will become an annual event, always on the second Sunday in September.

Prior to the start of the ceremony, Escalon High junior Kristen Gutierrez sang the National Anthem.

“This is just a special moment,” Emery told the crowd as he took the microphone to introduce Pitassi and Van Houten, who are the backbone of the organization. He said the “long-term service” of the duo made it clear there was no better name than the one that now adorns the Ullrey Avenue facility.

Escalon Mayor Gary Haskin and Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Laugero were both on hand, each presenting a proclamation in honor of the occasion. Haskin read his, about Pitassi, with Laugero reading a proclamation about Van Houten, and presenting them on behalf of the city. Both were cited for their loyalty, dedication, time and commitment to the community and leading and teaching other first responders.

In stepping up to the podium, Pitassi said it was definitely an honor to be recognized while still in his career but pointed to the groundwork laid by many others over 50 years ago that brought ECA to fruition.

“It was a dream of Les Prater in 1961, he was the impetus,” Pitassi explained of the community getting its own ambulance service. “Many others, like Paul Ekholm, Jim Payne, the late Ralph Verschoor … these are the folks who helped start the service.”

Pitassi lauded the efforts of former police chief Jack Storne – who also recently passed away – as being a key player in the early days of ECA and serving as his mentor.

Walt Hogan of Hogan Manufacturing was noted as a primary financial supporter early on and, today, Mark Hogan continues that legacy, often contributing to help provide needed equipment. He was gifted with a special helmet emblazoned with the HMI logo by Pitassi, who thanked him for his continued support.

The ambulance station itself was built by local contractor C.T. Brayton and Sons several years ago, put up over a three-month span.

“It’s been an honor to serve here, an honor for all of us to continue to serve here,” Pitassi added.

Van Houten, who did not take the microphone, did tell The Times that she wanted to thank everyone that helped make the day special.

“It’s an honor to go in to their homes, often at their worst times, and serve them. Many are friends and family,” Van Houten noted of those they serve. “We appreciate the community for coming to support us.”