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Jeff Pilgrim answered the call as reserve firefighter for 23 years
Jeff Pilgrim received a recognition plaque for his years of service as a reserve for the City of Manteca Fire Department. - photo by Photo Contributed
For 23 years, Jeff Pilgrim was on call, for the most part, 24/7.

He recently retired from the City of Manteca Fire Department’s reserve program only to discover that old habits are hard to break.

“I still sleep with the scanner nearby,” Pilgrim said on Tuesday.

A 1983 graduate of Manteca High, he was given the proper sendoff by Chief Kirk Waters and the rest of his colleagues, receiving a cake, recognition plaque for his years of service, and a firefighter helmet.

“He had a great career and will be missed by all,” Waters said.

Ditto that for Pilgrim.

“I’ll miss the guys and the action,” he added.

Getting close to the action was what hooked Pilgrim to the reserve program in the first place. At the time, he was a photographer for the Manteca News, a defunct local weekly publication, and was out covering a fire of a church in the 200 block of South Main Street.

Pilgrim was a familiar face at many of the fire and accident scenes.

“By then, I had gotten to know everyone,” he said.

Included was then fire Chief Larry Drager, who encouraged Pilgrim to join the reserve program.

“He told me ‘if you’re always with us, you might consider being one of us,’” said Pilgrim, who was required to pass the written examination along with the grueling physical test.

“The (physical) part was tough,” he recalled.

Pilgrim juggled his duties with the fire department along with that of Johnson Studio and, later, Kamps Propane.

As a reserve, he had the duty of supporting the full-time personnel of the fire department.  All reserves are required to respond to major incidents to assist with fire ground activities.

Reserves must do a minimum 12 hours a month riding with the engine company, Pilgrim said.

Not much has changed in his short time away from the reserves other than the regular Tuesday meetings and drills.

“It was a tough decision,” Pilgrim said. “I knew it was time.

“The guys were getting younger and younger, but I wasn’t.”

Pilgrim also admitted that he had yet to sleep through a night.

After all, he had been accustomed to being on call throughout the years, ready to spring into action at any time during the wee hours.

Old habits die hard.