Perhaps if he had it his way, Kirk Waters’ retirement as Manteca Fire Chief would have been a modest affair.
Of course, he would want his wife Shelly, mother Gail (his father, Dahl, a former firefighter, passed away a month ago), and his six children – Ruth, Abigail, Ellie, Dallas, Lydia and Gideon – in attendance not to mention his “fire” family.
Instead, Waters was treated to a sendoff filled plenty of pomp and circumstance topped off with an ice cream social at the Manteca Transit Center on Thursday.
“It’s been a privilege and an honor to be a firefighter for the City of Manteca for 29 years,” he said to the large gathering made up of his two families along with dignitaries and elected officials.
Waters is returning to his roots, joining Doctors Medical Center in Modesto while working as a respiratory therapist in the neonatal unit.
He drew plenty of praises from those in attendance.
“We worked hard at your request to keep (this gathering) small, but you really had an impact on all of our lives,” said interim fire Chief Kyle Shipherd.
Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion credited Waters for his great leadership.
“He created a bond between the firefighters and police – there’s usually animosity between the two (in some cities),” he said.
Mike Anderson, on behalf of U.S. Congressman Jeff Denham, honored Waters.
He was presented with a special recognition for his long list of accomplishments placed in the Congressional Record for the Library of Congress.
Waters was the acting captain in 1995 followed by captain (1996), fire division chief (2005) and fire chief (2009).
Manteca Councilman Vince Hernandez called Waters a true role model.
“He’s a family man – he loves his children, his wife is his priority, he loves his job, he’s proud to serve his community, and he has (religious) faith,” said Hernandez.
Councilman Rich Silverman has known Waters for about 10 years. Yet he couldn’t come up with one crazy story about the retired fire chief.
“He’s a straight arrow. Look up the definition and you’ll a picture of Kirk,” Silverman jokingly said.
Mayor Steve DeBrum added: “(Kirk Waters) was always there for the betterment of the next person. He will greatly be missed.”
For Chief Gene Neely of the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District, Waters is an exceptional person. “He was a great fire chief but a better human being,” Neely said.
A testament of that was shared by Supervisor John Mendoza of the Manteca District Ambulance. He recalled being at Manteca Fire Station No. 241, where Waters was the fire captain back then.
“There was a care home behind the station – he had his men go door to door (daily) to personally check on each resident,” he said.
Some of the best stories of the afternoon came from family members.
Oldest daughter Ruth Waters remembers being the coolest kid on her block when her father and his fellow firefighters parked the big red fire truck in the front yard. The tradeoff for that was seeing the crew raid the refrigerator of all the ice cream.
For Shelly Waters, her husband’s like for ice cream is one of his biggest weaknesses. She met Kirk during his first go-around of working in hospital as a respiratory therapist.
“Our first date was snow skiing – and, yes, he had a mullet (long hair in the back, tightly cropped on the side),” she said.
Abigail Waters joked about her father’s fashion sense. “He has a closet full of clothes but with variations of the same shirt,” she said.
But it’s an old crew-neck sweater that’s a prized possession for daughter No. 2. “It’s the most comfortable sweater and probably older than me,” said Abigail, who is a junior at UCLA.
Ellie Waters celebrated her 16th birthday on this day and recently began to drive.
As a firefighter, Kirk Waters has seen his fair share of mishaps along the Highway 120 Bypass – his mother, Gail Waters, is all but prohibited from driving along this stretch.
“If there’s an accident, he’ll call or text to make sure we’re all OK,” said Ellie, who is entering her senior year at Ripon High.
Dallas Waters, 15, recalled working alongside with his father as Cub Scouts for the Pinewood Derby. “Wood working and tinkering were not his among skills,” he said.
Kirk Waters, meanwhile, admitted that he wasn’t dwelling too much on his retirement. “I didn’t have a countdown calendar,” he said.
He did have time to look back on the many memories.
As a firefighter, he was on call 24/7. Because of that, he was forced to miss a birthday, anniversary or a special occasion.
He’s looking forward to spending more quality time with his family.
“I’ll miss most is the fire family and everything we developed together,” Kirk Waters said.