For the past 160 years, the Mokelumne Hill Fourth of July Parade has been led by a resident who has served the community with pride and this year’s grand marshal is no exception. Chat Soule has served the community for more than 40 years as a volunteer firefighter.
“When I was told I was chosen I joked with them, telling them that they must be able to see the bottom of the barrel cause they sure were scraping it,” Soule joked. “But it is quite an honor. There are so many wonderful people who have gone before me, it’s actually overwhelming.”
Soule moved to Mokelumne Hill in 1976, after spending time visiting his sister and brother-in-law, then owners of Moke Hill Market.
“I came and visited. I liked it and I stayed.”
Within six months of making Moke Hill his home, Soule was at the door of the fire protection district wanting to volunteer.
“I learned firefighting at the age of 15,” Soule recalled. “My training consisted of, ‘Here’s the nozzle, there are the flames.’”
Growing up in Orinda, Soule fought many vegetation and structure fires in both Orinda and Lafayette as part of the Lafayette Fire District. Yet after graduating high school, his nation called and he enlisted in the United States Air Force.
“With Vietnam ratcheting up, I enlisted, choosing all-terrain vehicle operator. I figured if I was going to war, I thought I would rather ride than walk.”
Though he volunteered twice to go to Vietnam, he was based in Florida his whole four years of service, working “on everything that had wheels or tracks.”
Upon returning home, Soule worked several jobs, but he never forgot his time as a firefighter.
“I enjoyed the adrenaline rush that keeps you both mentally and physically on your toes,” he said, acknowledging that the feeling of helping keep the community safe is a strong reward.
Though acknowledging the positive aspects of his job, he also carries the burden that all emergency personnel carry, “The anxiety we feel at the end of a tragedy … When we are on the scene we don’t have time to process, we just do our job, what we are trained to do. You go in and do your job, but when you get back to the station later, you sit and think.”
The “what ifs” plague him to this day.
“I have responded to many medical calls where the patient is a friend. It’s really hard.”
But that doesn’t stop Soule from his next volunteer shift.
“It is just what you do in a community,” he said.
“This year (the parade) will be a little different for me,” he explained. “I am normally at the end of the parade driving the fire department water tender. This year I will be in front.”
Soule volunteers as a firefighter and water tender operator with the Mokelumne Hill Fire Protection District, but he is also the agency’s vehicle and station maintenance employee.
The Mokelumne Hill Fourth of July Parade steps off at 11 a.m. Tuesday on Main Street. After the parade, family-friendly games are staged in Shutter Tree Park and vendor booths offer crafts and more. Parade entrants can sign up on Tuesday (no later than 10 a.m.) or earlier by visiting the post office in town or online at mokehill.org. Vendor spots are available by calling 286-1241.