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Fire Chief Haas ends 31-year career

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Retiring Manteca Fire Chief Chris Haas heads out with his surf board given to him by firemen at his retirement reception Thursday morning. It's a "thumbs up" gesture to Division Chief Kirk Waters ...

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

POSTED January 30, 2009 1:16 a.m.
Surfing is the sport retiring Manteca Fire Chief Chris Haas enjoys the most, and a new epoxy board will make it even better off the beaches near Monterey.

Interim fire chief Chris Waters, Haas and the late Tom Moore were often together at the Asilomar surfing area on the coast south of San Francisco.  Waters had been surfing since being a teen ager in the Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz areas.

Haas remembers when Waters was taking them to Asilomar, and Moore didn’t have a board.  Driving by a yard sale they noticed a used surf board for sale,   and for only $10, too.  They would soon find its true value.

The chief said they bought the board – with dings all over it – and three of them set out to catch the waves off the beach.  He remembers Moore getting caught in a wave and actually “pearling” it.   Not knowing what the term meant, he soon found out when the nose of the “yard sale” board dove into the wave he was riding.

The surfboard couldn’t take the force of the wave and it broke in half, he said.  It’s kind of like going over the falls, Haas said.

On another occasion at the beach, two of them were surfing while Haas was on the beach.  He noticed a ranger standing by an elephant sea lion with a group of kids standing around him.  Walking closer he saw a big hunk missing from the back of the seal – having just been attacked by a shark.  The sea lion was still alive.

He started waving and yelling at the other firemen to get out of the water – clasping his hands above his bowed head resembling a shark and to signal the shark danger that was present.

Thursday was the last day Haas would wear his uniform after greeting friends and city staffers at a reception that ran from 8 a.m. until noon at the Union Road fire station. He is ending a 31-year career serving the people of Manteca through the fire department. He was the department’s eighth full-time fire chief.

He said he and his wife are planning a trip to Kauai in the near future.  He’s taking that new Haut surfboard with him.  Haas does see a problem with flying between islands on a small plane with the length of the board.

“We help people,” has been added to the fire engines in Manteca as a symbol of their service to the community.  He said he is proud to leave the department with that logo.  “It’s all about the “WE” collectively – together we are working together to help people,” he stressed.

Haas and his wife bought a second home in Santa Cruz some 10 years ago and he has been surfing since that time.  His interim replacement as chief, Kirk Waters, has been with the Manteca department for the last 22 years – having begun his surfing quest 18 years ago.

The chief remembers surfing at Cabo San Lucas when a typhoon was threatening surfers in the area.  Every day the waves got bigger and bigger, he said.  Finally the waves were too much for him and he remembers vividly: “I crashed and burned in a bath of sea urchins.

He said the poisonous urchins were sticking to his feet, hurting a lot, and he couldn’t get them out.
Surfing became very addictive for him, enjoying the sport with members of other departments through a fire chiefs’ association.  

Waters also remembers when Haas got caught inside a reef, and they had to rescue him.

“I surf every couple of years.  He fell in love with it and bought a house in Santa Cruz,” he said.

Of being assigned the interim chief, Waters said he’s going to try and make it fun and to do his  best.  There’s a good management team in place, he added, saying Chief Haas enjoyed working for the city manager.

He said his hope is to build up what former chiefs George Quaresma and Chris Haas have established and to move forward, to foster relationships with other city departments, Manteca Ambulance, and the Lathrop-Manteca Fire Department.

“It’s a good time of life right now,” he said as he referred to his family, wife Shelly of 19 years and six children.

Shelly is busy home schooling all six:  Ruth, 14, Abigail, 12, Eleanor, 10, Dallas, 8, Ingrid, 4, and Gideon, 2.    Prior to getting so involved on the home front,  she was a registered nurse in the office of a cardiologist in Modesto.
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