Calif. fire chief dies weeks after cancer diagnosis

Garden Grove Fire Chief Tom Schultz died just weeks after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer

By Eric Licas
The Orange County Register

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — The Orange County firefighting community reeled at the sudden loss of Garden Grove Fire Chief Tom Schultz on Sunday, Jan. 27, just weeks after he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

Firefighters learned of Shultz’s illness about two weeks before he died, said Garden Grove Fire Capt. Thanh Nguyen. He said the veteran firefighter’s wife of 30 years and their three children were with him when he passed at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton at about 12 p.m. He was 54.

“In early January, Chief Schultz sought medical care at St. Jude Medical Center after experiencing abdominal discomfort at home,” said a GoFundMe page set up to help his family. “After evaluation, he and his family received the news that no person ever should. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic and liver cancer. “

The news came as a shock to the many firefighters who had been affected by his nearly 35-year commitment to service, according to Nguyen. He called him a “firefighter’s firefighter” and said Schultz trained hundreds of people currently working to save lives in their communities in his role as an instructor at Santa Ana College for the past 25 years.

Copyright 2019 The Orange County Register

Dozens of emergency responders from Brea, Fullerton and Garden Grove took part in a hastily organized procession held in Schultz’s honor from St. Jude to McAualy & Wallace Mortuary in Fullerton on Sunday afternoon.

Garden Grove Mayor Steve Jones said, “Garden Grove has lost an admirable man and an exceptional leader who proudly devoted himself to protecting lives and serving a community that will forever be in his debt.”

Shultz announced in September that he intended to retire. However, he continued in a fire department leadership position at the request of City Manager Scott Stiles, according to a city news release.

“It’s been my deepest privilege to serve and protect Orange County for 34 years,” Schultz said when he announced his retirement. “This is an amazing community that has shown me their care and support since Day 1.”

He took the helm at Garden Grove Fire at the end of April, 2015. He had previously served as the deputy chief of operations for the Fullerton and Brea fire departments.

Division Chief TJ McGovern had been serving as acting fire chief during Schultz’s illness, and will head the department until a decision is made regarding who will succeed Schultz.

In the wake of the chief’s sudden death, Nguyen urged residents to regularly screen themselves for cancer.

“If anyone could have fought this it was Tom,” said Nguyen. “But, unfortunately, the community lost a good man to a terrible, terrible disease.”


A wonderful tribute of our brother, Chief Tom Schultz’s procession today. Thank you Firewatch Photography for sharing this with us.

Posted by Fullerton Firefighters on Sunday, January 27, 2019


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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