By DENNIS WYATT
Towering above the Powers Avenue fire station stands an oak tree.
The tree, a gift from the Stockton Fire Department, was planted 20 years ago to honor Tom Moore, the only firefighter to lose his life in the line of duty during the 101-year history of the Manteca Fire Department.
Fire Chief Kyle Shipherd during ceremonies Sunday on the 20th anniversary of Moore’s death stood beneath the tree in front of the station where Moore served as a captain assigned to Engine 241.
Shipherd told the gathering of nearly 100 people how the tree has grown along with the department. But more importantly it is symbolic of how dozens upon dozens of men and women dedicated to the fire service were able to grow into top-notch firefighters as well as being better people thanks to the acorns of knowledge he helped plant within them as their training officer that were nurtured by his endless energy and desire to be his best and to bring out the best in others.
“(For Moore) being a firefighter wasn’t about being a hero or the excitement of the job,” Shipherd said. “It was about serving people.”
It was exactly two decades ago Sunday that Moore, while conducting a class at the Modesto fire training center, fell to his death at age 38. The loss of his life not only reverberated throughout the region’s fire service but also the community.
It’s because he was more than just a firefighter’s firefighter or the captain you aspired to be. His biggest priorities were his family and church while striving to help — as those who served with him noted — them “be the men they can be.”
It is why Moore opted to resign his promotion to division chief after a short time. He found it was taking more time away from his wife Robin and children Sarah and Kevin as well as working with his church.
The move didn’t surprise anyone. It’s not that Moore wasn’t making the grade as division chief — he was and then some. Those that worked with Moore knew him as a man of integrity who put his heart and soul in his family, job, and church.
“Tom Moore was my captain,” retired battalion chief and current Manteca Vice Mayor David Breitenbucher told the gathering. “More important he was a husband, a father, and a man of God.”
Firefighter Tony Taberna recalled when he first met Moore as a reserve.
“The first day he was this super energetic guy,” Taberna recalled of Moore who was the reserve training officer at the time.
Taberna said a fellow reservist turned to him and said “this guy isn’t going to be like this all the time.”
As Taberna noted, his fellow reserve was wrong. Moore’s enthusiasm for his job, his family, his faith, and his fellow man never abated.
Andy Kellogg, a firefighter who served with Moore and has since retired as a Tracy Fire Department division chief, was also among the speakers.
He shared how after Moore’s death in honor of the impact that he had on him and other firefighters, he made it a point whenever he was wearing his Class A uniform that tucked under his hat was the program from Moore’s funeral.
Kellogg said that all of those who served with Moore benefitted as a firefighter and as a person.
“He’s still here,” Kellogg said. “He is still with me.”
Fire Chief Shipherd echoed that sentiment noting that in his capacity of overseeing a department that today protects the lives and property of a city of 83,750 — 34,000 more than two decades ago — whenever he faces a tough decision he’ll often pause and ask himself, “what would Tom do?”
The day of his funeral a number of businesses monetarily closed and well over 2,500 people lined the streets to pay their respects as his funeral procession made its way through the heart of the city that he put his life on the line protecting lives and property.
Moore’s daughter Sarah, who said she was inspired by the service of her father in helping others that prompted her to become a nurse, told how the firefighter family has been there through the years for her, her mother, and her brother.
In 2011, a firemen’s bell dedicated to Moore’s memory was added to the Modesto fire training facility. It is rung before a class starts as well as to mark its end to carry on a 200-year fore service tradition.
“Saving lives and protecting property sometimes comes at a terrible cost,” Fire Captain Sterrie McLeod said while sharing the history being the firemen’s bell.
As a giant American flag fluttered slightly as it was draped over Powers Avenue from the platform of the department’s 100-foot aerial truck in front of the station where Moore’s children would visit him during his shifts, Shipherd stepped up and rang the bell one more time in honor of the man who helped nurture a generation of firefighters, protect his community and do so while keeping family and faith foremost in his heart and every day life.