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Santos plans to mentor handicapped young men
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Manteca veteran firefighter Captain Steve Santos walks away from smoldering remains of a mobile home after the blaze was extinguished at the El Rancho Mobile Home Park two weeks ago. He will be hanging up his turnouts and helmet for good at the end of the month. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Manteca Fire Captain Steve Santos is answering his final call this month after more than 20 years of service to Manteca.

Santos hopes to end it on a much more uplifting note than how he started his fire career. He had recovered two bodies when he was working his first shift on the Manteca department.  One was a hanging and the other was a lady who died in the shower.

“It is a wonderful department to work for – the people are interested in each others’ lives,” Santos said. “It’s a whole new generation now of young firefighters and their families having kids. I still love my job, I love what I do.”

He might be shifting his focus away from fighting fires, but he will still be involved in making a difference.  He won’t be answering 911 calls, but Santos is already planning to respond to filling voids he sees in the vocational training of young adults.

Santos and his wife Janelle live on four acres in Waterford where the retiring fire captain has some livestock, row crops and fruit trees on the property.  His main concern in his future surrounds four young men who are somewhat handicapped and not able to find a job that would help them survive in the real world.

They need a vocation and they need a work schedule where they can learn to provide for themselves, Santos said.  He has already taught one of them how to weld and plans to quietly make a difference with the remaining three as well.  He looks at himself as becoming a jobs’ coach for the special education kids, finding employment for them at something they can do in the work world. 

“For the kids who are capable of doing something, we have to find someone willing to put them to work,” Santos stressed.

“If I were to win the lottery tomorrow, we would build a vocational school,” he said.  He and his special education spouse, who teaches in Ceres, share the same passion.  

The firefighter is going to do his best to make a difference for the four of them if only on a small scale with the planting of additional fruit trees and rows of vegetable crops that they can harvest for area food pantries in the community.

“They won’t get jobs unless someone advocates for them,” he insisted. “My goal is to see them all have jobs where they can take care of themselves.”

The ages of the four are 16, 17, 18 and 20.

On their four-acre ranch the family has two steers, two goats and three horses along with two heifers.  They have four dogs including a miniature dachshund, a terrier, a black lab and a St. Bernard.  Santos said his wife really loves her animals as well as her children.

 Their 24-year-old daughter Sabrina is an avid equestrian and her sister Marcella is currently attending Stanislaus State where she is reaching for a degree to become a physicist.  Christopher, 18, is about to graduate from Waterford High School next month. 

Daniel is the oldest at 32 and is working for a data processing firm in the Bay Area where he is involved in “Cloud Management” in the apps world with his master’s degree.

Santos has admittedly become a good cook in the kitchen at home four days in a row and at the station where he says he cooks everything. 

“I cook when my wife is in school,” he quipped. “It’s herb-crusted fish to meatloaf.  As long as you make things that taste good you can cook.  I make lots of things. We love salads.”.

Fire Chief Kirk Waters had nothing but good to say about the firefighter he has worked alongside with and has had on his team since becoming chief.  He noted that Santos has always been supportive and a team player.

Battalion Chief Bob Davis has worked with Santos during his many years with the department saying, “He tells it just like it is – he holds no punches.”

Kyle Shipherd, another battalion chief, chuckled when he noted that Santos could fix just about anything with duct tape.  Firefighter Traig Smith added his thoughts, “He’s about as genuine as it comes,” he said.

Tony Taberna, another firefighter, interjected that in addition to the use of duct tape, Santos does pretty well with bailing wire repairs and brings a sense of comedy to the station house that will be sorely missed.

Santos and his brother Bob both took the test for the fire service in San Jose after they had gotten out of college.  His brother was hired and just completed 30 years with that department, but the younger Santos went into the heating and air conditioning field where he worked for 18 years with sheet metal.

He reminisced about meeting his wife at a Halloween party years ago.  The firefighter who grew up pumping gas at a filling station said he was dressed as the “Tin Man” and she was a gangster.  Santos was hosting the party in San Jose.

“I just saw her eyes and I was very attracted to her,” he recalled as if it were yesterday.

Santos was definitely a family man from the start. He coached all his kids’ sports teams from Little League to soccer and went on every field trip at their schools because, he said, he had the time to do it.

At the age of 36 he was hired on the Manteca Fire Department and is now retiring at 58.  He said he loves his job as a firefighter and is really not ready to hang it up this soon in his life.  He said he will miss the camaraderie he has shared with the other firefighters including cooking dinners in the kitchen.

Santos said April 30 is his last day.