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Passion for Manteca Fire burns bright
MUSUEM MFD4-7-12-13
The Manteca Historical Society took a candid look at the history and current state of the Manteca Fire Department on Thursday evening, with Fire Chief Kirk Waters serving as the programs main speaker. - photo by HIME ROMERO

The model of Manteca High School sitting against the wall of the Manteca Historical Society provides more than just one flashback for Bob Scharmann.

On one hand, he graduated from there. On the other, the last time he saw it like that – with the famous bell tower intact – it had flames erupting from it.

And he was tasked with running inside.

Scharmann, a retired Manteca firefighter and founder of Manteca’s SAFE Program – Seniors Assisting Firefighting Efforts – talked about some of the things that he remembers most at the Manteca Historical Society’s monthly program Thursday night at the museum on Yosemite Avenue.

He didn’t dig too deeply into the history of the organization itself, but Scharmann talked about how the 1927 LaFrance fire engine that sits in the tin building outside would kick water like a mule, and how when he got called out to the fire at Manteca High School (he started with the volunteer department in 1959) it was the building material that led to its ultimate demise.

“It had a tile roof, and the commander on scene was afraid that it would collapse on the firefighters who were still inside,” he said, the model replica showing the terracotta-colored roof just 20 feet away. “That’s when the tower collapsed.”

Other things that Scharmann recalled included when the City of Manteca and the Manteca Rural Fire Departments shared the building that would eventually become the El Rey Theater (and, ironically, burn down). A single siren in town would go off when engines were dispatched, and the number of tones, similar to those broadcast to radios today, would signify who would respond.

While the two agencies split up their shared space long ago, the close working relationship has remained according to Manteca Fire Chief Kirk Waters, who set up the framework of the presentation and gave an update as to the current state of the department.

Waters, who took over the department on a full-time basis in 2009 after a year as the interim chief, talked excitedly about Manteca’s fourth fire station – which comes on-line in September – and the positive atmosphere among the crew of 40 that help keep Manteca residents safe.

He explained the 5-minute response model, the time in which a fire will its flashover point and a brain that’s deprived of oxygen will suffer permanent damage, and how the new station will bring 3,000 homes and a wide swath of business inside of that critical window.

He also talked about how good it is to have a boss like City Manager Karen McLaughlin that shares the same values and long-range outlook, and a city council that cares about its employees and its residents.

“It’s a great time for the City of Manteca in terms of its leadership,” he said. “It’s a great time to be the fire chief.”