LATHROP – Jerry Sims, who shepherded the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District through many challenges in the 1990s until he retired eight years ago, lost his long battle with cancer on Friday. He died at his home in Reno, where he moved two years ago, surrounded by family members.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Longtime fire board member and former Lathrop mayor Bennie Gatto recalled Sims as ‘a good guy” who always “tried hard” to do his job from the start, especially when the district was in dire financial straits.
“He faced a lot of challenges at that time. We were struggling along. He was appointed interim chief for a while and he held that position until we moved him into the chief’s position. He had a pretty rough time during that period but he did really good to keep the department together,” said Gatto.
For Fire Chief Gene Neely, Sims’ demise hits a really strong personal and professional chord.
“He actually hired me in 1993 – on December 23, 1993,” he said during the telephone interview not long after he heard the sad news.
He and his staff at the district “had an idea that he wasn’t doing well and that he was not going to make it, but we’re still surprised and saddened to hear of one of our fellow firefighters passing,” Neely said.
“We’re all kind of taken aback,” he added.
Word of Sims’ demise also hit hard former district fire chief Jim Monty who retired in 2008 and is now a Battalion Chief volunteer for the Mariposa Fire District.
“Jerry retired in 2004 and then I took over,” said Monty who, despite moving to Mariposa, continues to volunteer for Lathrop’s annual mayor’s art show.
“As far as working with Jerry, I met him when I started as a reserve firefighter with the (then) Manteca-Lathrop Fire District,” Monty said, recalling some of his memories working with Sims.
Soon after the incorporation of the city of Lathrop, the district’s name was changed to Lathrop-Manteca Fire District.
“He was a battalion chief (at the time) and spent a lot of time with the Reserve program. He was my training officer when I got hired as a career firefighter in January 1985. From there on through our careers, he kept me watching his back. I was his captain when he was the B-shift battalion chief. I was his BC when he made division chief. And when he made fire chief, I was his deputy chief,” he said.
After Sims retired, Monty said he and his former colleague “always kept in touch while I was chief, making sure that I knew he was always available if I needed advice. We spent many hours working closely together, trying to make LMFD the best it could be.”
He said some of their “biggest events together was the floods of 1997 – that almost took out Station 32 (on South Union Road), the construction of our administration office and Station 34, and working with the newly incorporated City of Lathrop.”
The construction of Station 34 to the tune of just over $4 million, was historic in a number of ways. It was the first fire station to be built west of the Interstate 5 in the fast-growing west Lathrop. For the district, the state-of-the-art station was also the first new fire station to be built in more than three decades.
Monty said, “I will forever miss our Friday lunches at Hob Nob Bob’s and our meetings over a cup, or two, of coffee.”
“He contributed a lot into the community. He was always there to lend a helping hand, offer any kind of advice” to many would-be firefighters working from the reserves to a career in firefighting, Neely said.
Helping out at the Dell’Osso Farms’ many family-friendly events was just one of the many activities where Sims offered a volunteer hand, he said. “He was a big part of the community. (His demise) is a great loss for Lathrop.”
“He’d do anything for you, go out on a limb for you and would do what he could to help you along. He was always very congenial and was always there when people needed him,” Gatto said.