Plunging his loved ones and countywide brethren in the fire service into deep shock and mourning, Garden Grove Fire Chief Tom Schultz died Sunday, Jan. 27, just a few weeks after learning he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver.
Schultz, 54, died at noon at St. Jude Hospital in Fullerton after his condition worsened Saturday, Jan. 26. He had been undergoing chemotherapy treatment after checking himself into the hospital for abdominal pain in early January.
Sunday afternoon, a procession of fire engines and trucks from several agencies escorted Schultz from St. Jude to McAulay & Wallace Mortuary – a ride that for his loved ones, colleagues and friends had to be the longest mile ever.
“Words alone cannot describe the immeasurable heartache felt by his family and friends, including his Garden Grove, Fullerton, and Brea fire families,” the Garden Grove Fire Department said in a news release.
Schultz’ family – wife, Kim, and his two daughters and a son — requested privacy as they mourn the passing of not only a husband and father, but a leader in the Orange County fire service community.
His loved ones were at his side when he died.
Garden Grove Fire chief since April 29, 2015, Schultz enjoyed a 30-year career with the Fullerton Fire Department before that. At the Fullerton FD, he led the agency’s management consolidation with the Brea Fire Department as deputy chief.
Schultz is widely known throughout the O.C. fire service community. He mentored future firefighters and fire service leaders as an instructor at the Santa Ana College fire technology program, and he held leadership positions in organizations such as the Orange County Fire Chiefs’ Association, and many county and state committees.
“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,” Garden Grove Mayor Steve Jones said in a statement. “Our most heartfelt thoughts and condolences are with his family during this difficult time, shared by all those who knew him.”
Garden Grove Police Chief Todd Elgin Todd is heartbroken over the loss of his close friend.
“He was a great leader and one of the most loyal and noble men I have ever met,” Elgin wrote in a Facebook post. “I will miss him tremendously and can’t even fathom the fact that I will never talk to him again. Rest In Peace, my friend.”
Garden Grove Fire Department Division Chief TJ McGovern had been serving as acting fire chief during Schultz’s illness, and will head the department until further notice.
Schultz retired as Garden Grove Fire chief in September 2018, but stayed on at the request of City Manager Scott Stiles as a “re-hire” known as an annuitant.
“I have the highest regard and appreciation for Chief Schultz’s remarkable leadership of the Garden Grove Fire Department,” Stiles said in a statement. “His dedication, enthusiasm, and passion for this city and community are unmatched.
“He was a good friend, and a man of principle, devoted to his family, and to the men and women of the Garden Grove Fire Department. He will be deeply missed.”
Memorial services are pending.
Click here to read a GoFundMe page set up for the Schultz family.