Loved ones, comrades in fire service celebrate the life of Garden Grove Fire Chief Tom Schultz


To his three children, Tom Schultz stressed accountability, responsibility, and selflessness as the keys to a meaningful life.

Schultz employed these same principals in his own life, whether it was applying his expertise in providing relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina, mentoring young firefighters, or leading an entire fire department.

He was a profoundly devoted husband and a man of unyielding faith.

Firefighters from various agencies gather at the entrance of Garden Grove Fire Chief Tom Schultz’s memorial service at EVFree Fullerton Church on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

More than 1,000 loved ones and supporters, including hundreds from Southern California fire agencies, gathered at EvFree Church in Fullerton Wednesday, Feb. 13, to celebrate the life of Schultz, the Garden Grove fire chief who died Jan. 27 after being diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer only weeks earlier.

Schultz was 54 and left behind his wife of 29 years, Kim, and children Sarah, Marissa, and Andrew.

“We’re celebrating the life of Tom Schultz for not only what he left physically, but spiritually as well,” said fire service chaplain Fernando Villacana, Schultz’s friend. “From the attendance here today, there is no denying that Tom Shultz has handed down a rich legacy to all of us.”

Schultz had worked in the fire service for more than 30 years, climbing the ranks to deputy chief of operations for the Fullerton Fire Department before becoming chief of the Garden Grove Fire Department in 2015.

File photo of Garden Grove Fire Chief Tom Schultz by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Schultz helped oversee the consolidation between the command staffs of the Fullerton and Brea fire departments, a revolutionary merger that saved both cities hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While at Fullerton, Schultz formed an urban search and rescue team and, in 2005, went to the Gulf Coast to help with search and rescue efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Schultz also spent 25 years training future firefighters as an instructor at Santa Ana College.

“I recognized his talents early on,” said Wolfgang Knabe, the retired chief of the Brea and Fullerton fire departments. “I knew he’d be a great fire chief. My loss was Garden Grove’s gain.”

Schultz was passionate about the fire department, about the community, and about his family, Knabe said.

“I miss my friend,” Knabe said, “and the only saving grace is that I will see him again in our Father’s house.”

Fire and police officers from various cities salute as family members arrive at EVFree Fullerton for Garden Grove Fire Chief Tom Schultz’s memorial service.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Added Knabe, referring to Schultz’ wife: “He always told me that he married way above his pay grade.”

Schultz never missed milestones and significant events in his children’s lives.

Sarah and Andrew took the stage to share their praise and love for their father.

“Our dad was our biggest cheerleader,” Sarah said. “As a father, our dad was dedicated to our happiness and success along every step of our lives. One of the biggest lessons he taught me was to be brave in life.”

Said Andrew: “Our lives will never be the same or as complete with our dad no longer on this Earth, but we find intense comfort in knowing that his spirit will always be with us wherever we go.”

A firefighter from Brea untangles the flag draped over the entrance of Garden Grove Fire Chief Tom Schultz’s memorial service at EVFree Fullerton Church.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge