Saying he wants to do something different with his life, Ceres Fire Battalion Chief Randy Wheeler retired last month after 30 years of service.
Now 52, Wheeler says he might go into farming or start his own business.
"I was ready for a change," said Wheeler. "I told my wife I'm going to take six months to get my head clear and I'll figure something that I'm going to do, on my own. So I'm not going to be a couch potato and sit around. But do an 8-to-5 or what was I was doing, no."
On March 30, his last day of service the department lowered the American flag at an end-of-shift ceremony, folded it, and presented it to Wheeler along with his badge, name tag, bugles and patch.
"I'm going to miss it. There's been a lot of good people. I can tell you I was overwhelmed my last day there how many people came by and how many comments were made to me. It made me feel very, very good."
As age 23, Wheeler began working in 1987 as a volunteer when the Ceres department still had volunteers. The 1982 Ceres High graduate was encouraged by the enthusiasm he saw displayed by two friends who were volunteers, Joel Broumas and Dave Ward. Later all three became brothers-in-law when they married three sister - Randy marrying Sheryl Lile, Joel married Shelley Lile and Dave married Leanne Lile. Randy's wife and Shelley are twin sisters.
At the time he was volunteering, Randy worked for PepsiCo.
"I kind of had a change of heart in what I wanted to do as a career. I think the more I did it as a volunteer and got to see some things, I thought I'd be pretty lucky in something that would make my family proud of me doing."
For seven years Wheeler was a volunteer under the leadership of Fire Division Commander Brian Weber, racing off to fight fires and deal with accident victims. He laughs today when he thinks about how volunteers were able to ride on the back tailboard, a practice which is illegal today. In 1994 Wheeler was hired full-time after going to fire science and law enforcement classes at night as well as becoming an EMT.
In three decades he watched Ceres Fire grow from a single station to four stations; from a volunteer to a fully paid department.
"It was pretty impressive to see that changes that have gone on."
The experience of helping people in their moment of crisis was most rewarding to Wheeler.
"I enjoyed dealing with the public and the camaraderie with the guys. Knowing you were able to help someone. We could have a fire and you'd see their personal property devastated and they're still telling us thank you. We've had cookies, we've had cakes. It's not just on fires. It's medical calls, knowing you made a difference or attempted to make a difference."
There were also acts done beyond the call of duty, such as helping motorists change a tire or help people get off the road.
"I know guys who've helped mow lawns or set up beds for people."
But he also can't shake the images of some tragedies, such as extracting dead or dying from wrecks.
"Some of them you hold onto. Some of them are in the back of your mind, they maybe hit close to home or somebody you know. I was born and raised in Ceres so I've dealt with people I've known on good things and some pretty devastating things. Kids are the hardest - and people that I know - to deal with."
If anything, seeing tragic accidents has caused Randy to stress for his children to be cautious when driving, including faithful seatbelt use and abstaining from texting and driving and drinking and driving.
Randy and his wife of 27 years have two sons - Lane is 17 and Clay, 11.
"I'm probably overly cautious with my family than others."
Wheeler said he is most appreciative of the career Ceres Fire Department offered him.
"I can't thank the city enough for the security and the career and the opportunities provided to me and my family," said Wheeler.