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Smith retires after 30 years as firefighter
Surrounded by colleagues in the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District, Division Chief Chester Smith clutches his certificates of commendation as he listens to the words of thanks and praise from members of the Lathrop City Council. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
LATHROP — The reception honoring Lathrop-Manteca Fire District division chief Chester Smith was in recognition of his nearly 30 years of service, according to the advance announcement.
But that was only counting the years he served in the district here. He has actually been a firefighter for 32 years. Before he moved to California and settled in the Lathrop-Manteca area, he was a volunteer reservist for two years in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He started there in 1977.
He was in the Army at that time, working as a fire reservist during his off-duty time. He was in the service for four years starting in 1975. In 1979, toward the end of his military stint, he and his first wife moved to California to be close to her parents. They settled in Lathrop. In July of that year, Smith joined the Lathrop-Manteca Fire district which was then called Manteca-Lathrop Rural Fire Protection District. (The name was changed several years ago to reflect the bigger role the newly incorporated city of Lathrop played in the district’s discharge of services due, in part, to demographic changes in the area that the fire-protection agency serves as both the incorporated cities of Manteca and Lathrop expanded its borders and annexed more unincorporated rural areas.)
Smith worked as a reservist for the district for three years before he was “picked up full time” in 1981 as a fire engineer. From there, it was a steady climb to the position of division chief of operations, at one time even wearing both hats as training and operations division chief. In 1988, he was promoted to captain. Then in 1991, he was made division chief. His office is currently located at the new fire station in west Lathrop.
Smith said he decided to finally hang up his firefighter’s hat not because he has gotten bored with the job.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
For one thing, “I’ve reached the age, and I got the service credit for my retirement,” he explained.
He also wants to spend more time with his family, “do things around the house, fish, golf, go camping, doing things with the kids and grandkids.”
While he’s stepping aside from his long firefighting career, two of his children with wife Patricia are also now following in his early footsteps. Son Eric, 20, is now a full-time reservist with the fire district. And son Ryan, a senior at Sierra High School, is a fire Explorer.
Retirement though won’t be all fun and recreation for Smith. His wife, who also worked as a photographer for the Manteca Bulletin at one time, is still employed at St. Anthony’s School in Manteca where she is active in many extracurricular activities as well such as the annual Farm Day. Smith said he will also continue his many volunteer involvements with community service organizations and projects such as the Rotary Club.
“I’ll help with things like that if they ask.”
And perhaps, even go back to working as a volunteer fire reservist, he said.