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District has been on job serving area since 1956
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LATHROP - A lot of things have changed in Lathrop over the course of the last 75 years.

Interstate 5 - the busy federal freeway responsible for a large chunk of the town's industrial business - wasn't even formally conceived until 1956, and Lathrop itself didn't even become a city until its incorporation in 1989.

Residents have come and gone. Businesses have run their course and died off. Grand ideas that promised to transform the small community into a world class destination have dissipated and faded away.

But one thing has remained constant - the round-the-clock service provided by the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District and its personnel sworn to protect life and property in the sprawling coverage area that blends mainline residents with rural landowners.

While the district itself might be struggling financially amidst the housing crisis unfolding all around it, the sense of pride of being involved with an organization that has such a long history, Fire Chief Gene Neely said, is evidenced by the number of former firefighters and personnel who come back every year for an annual barbecue.

"You can see it in the retirees and the guys that started here and went on to other places," Neely said. "They always know that they got their start here, and they're very appreciative of that. I think you can see that sense of accomplishment and pride.

"It's something that we'll always have - it's something that we'll never let go."

And finding an example of that bond that exists in the brotherhood of firefighters - especially in a district like Lathrop-Manteca that is bigger in area than it is on population - isn't hard to do.
When the ramifications from the housing crunch finally hit home for the district and its board, and not replacing retirees as a form of saving money wasn't an option anymore, there were some who weren't content with watching the organization that they spent much of their lives representing unravel.

Battalion Chief Chester Smith elected to come back from his retirement as a volunteer to help provide some of the on-the-job administrative work that's needed so that Neely could be freed up to handle the day-to-day tasks that were piling up.

Seeing that type of dedication, Neely said, only reaffirms that sense of pride that those in the fire service have for the work that they've done and the commitment that people like Smith are willing to show rather than let things fall apart.

"When you look at guys like Chester - Don Smith - come back to help the community and handle the day-to-day and the emergencies for us, those are the examples of what makes this district great," he said. "It's hard for them to sit back and watch the district go through hard times, and they want to stand up and do something about it.

"That's exactly what they've done."

To contact Jason Campbell, email or call (209) 249-3544.