There was no indication from the Lathrop Manteca Fire District’s Board of Directors on Tuesday night when Fire Chief Gene Neely might return from administrative leave pending an ongoing investigation.
But in the meantime, Battalion Chief Josh Capper will serve as the Acting Fire Chief – managing the day-to-day operations of the district until there is more clarity about Neely’s absence.
Because his current leave is classified as a personnel matter, the district said that it cannot release any additional details about the investigation or the claims that led to one being started.
Capper, who has spent more than 20 years working for the Lathrop Manteca Fire District, was selected after the board offered the title to Battalion Chief Craig Jones who turned it down. Division Chief Larry Madoski – who was sitting on the dais during the board meeting where Neely usually sits – was not formally offered the position during the meeting.
According to board president Gloryanna Rhodes, the district wasn’t initially going to tap a temporary replacement during Neely’s absence – something that isn’t a rarity at Lathrop Manteca given Neely’s position as a Type 1 incident commander for Cal Fire which requires him to leave for multiple weeks at a time during fire season.
But with development occurring at breakneck speeds in Lathrop, having an official point person that is not as an elected official, Rhodes said, emerged as a requirement – although the board offered no additional information about the length of the temporary posting or the possibilities that lie ahead.
Prior to this recent development, Rhodes had served as the board’s vice president under Tosh Ishihara who resigned that position last month. In addition to appointing Capper on Tuesday, the board voted to appoint Rhodes to the position of chair. Both Ishihara and Rhodes also serve on the Lathrop Planning Commission.
While the development with Neely has created some turmoil within the district, it’s largely business as usual as projects such as the Station 31 overhaul move forward, and the district works towards putting approved paramedics on each engine that responds to calls throughout the district.
While less than 10 years ago the district was forced to brown out stations and lay off firefighters – the byproduct of plummeting real estate values in the housing crisis – they now find themselves with the ability to become only the third agency in San Joaquin County to offer advanced life support while at the same time buying new apparatus and equipment thanks to Measure C and the fire facility fees that are paid by new development.
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