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May retiring after 27 years with Manteca Fire
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Manteca Fire Department Randy May is retiring this week after a long and successful career. May stands in front of the departments 100-foot aerial truck. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Manteca Fire Battalion Chief Randy May is answering his final alarm.

May is retiring from his 27-year career with the Manteca Fire Department after he completes his final shift Sunday morning.  He worked his way up the ladder from paramedic-firefighter to his current administrative role.

“He’s in early and goes home late – he’s here all the time,” said administrative assistant Debbie Williams of May.

It was an observation echoed by May’s fellow Battalion Chief Kyle Shipherd.

“Today’s his day off and he’s been here all day,” Shipherd said.

Captain Kevin Terpstra, who has worked under Chief May for the past 14 years, said May always put his men first no matter what he was doing himself in the firehouse or out in the field.

He remembered working on an engine at the station and mentioned that he needed a certain part to finish his job.  Within minutes May would be at his side with the part in hand. 

“He would get you anything you needed,” Terpstra said.

Chief May said Monday afternoon that he wasn’t ready to retire, adding it was something he had to do as it will mean that someone else wouldn’t have to be laid off in the current budget crunch.

Fire Chief Kirk Waters explained May’s action saying that the allotted personnel numbers required at least one layoff currently.  In retiring now, May made it possible that another younger firefighter in the department would continue to be on the payroll to support his family.

“He’s done so much for our department.  He loves the fire service and he is super committed,” Waters said.  “He’s just a good guy.”

Chief May grew up in Lodi.  His dad Charlie was an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent. His mother was employed in the Lodi School District athletic department.  Both are still active in their senior years.

“I was going to be a police officer but then I decided not to,” he said.

The decision came about because he needed work and started on the Lodi Ambulance as an emergency medical technician at the young age of 20. 

May actually entered into the work world just out of the eighth grade as a box boy and checker at the Sell-Rite grocery store in Lodi.  He also worked in the packing sheds and in the fields to earn the money he needed for his family of six

He first attended Modesto Junior College to study Administration of Justice. In need of an income he was hired by the ambulance company which changed his career path in December of 1975 and graduated paramedic school in June of 1978.  From Lodi Ambulance he moved on to become a reserve firefighter at the Woodbridge Fire Department in 1981 and was elevated to full-time status in 1982.

May joined the Manteca Fire Department in April of 1984. He also worked part-time for Manteca Ambulance until 1991 as a paramedic.  He was first assigned to Station One on Powers Avenue. He eventually served at all three firehouses.

During his tenure May was involved in the purchase of a lot of new equipment including four fire engines. He put the specifications together for the city. 

The chief got started in the fire service just prior to the innovation of paramedics in the field when Gene Vander Plaats in Ripon broke the ice in that arena.  Ripon connected with a trauma center in Modesto and they were transporting accident victims to Modesto hospitals from that community before San Joaquin County began its program.

May said the paramedic service in San Joaquin County got under way in October of 1976.  During his first year in the field he said the procedure was still “picking up and run” with the victims, getting them to the hospitals by the old standard – doing what you could.

The long-time firefighter and medic also worked for the San Joaquin County Emergency Medical Service (EMS) part-time.  That was from 1990 to 1997. He worked getting automatic defibulators for heart patients and working with other departments to get them up and running.  May was the Emergency Medical Technician Defibulator (EMTD) program coordinator and also provided first responder training.

May’s wife Linda looks forward to him being home more in the near future.  The couple has two adult children, Katy and Andrew.  Katy works in human resources for Price, Waterhouse, Cooper in Manhattan, New York. Andrew is employed at Memorial Hospital in Modesto.

Chief May recalls taking his men to fires in the Southland as their strike team leader.  He said they took their engines south on many trips – more than he can count on both hands.  Those included the Tea Cup Fire in Santa Barbara, the Butler Fire and a couple blazes in the Malibu back country terrain. 

The chief said he never worked in a training assignment after being lauded by his men for teaching them the added depths of the fire service.

“I’d like to think I passed some tidbits of information off to them on how they did their jobs,” he quipped.