Elmer R. McBeath, a veteran fire chief in Folsom and Rancho Cordova who began fighting fires before he was old enough to drive, died May 13 at 88. He had congestive heart failure, his family said.
Folsom was a sleepy prison town and Mr. McBeath (prounounced Mc-BETH) was a teenager when he joined the Folsom volunteer fire department in 1939.
During school, the sound of a fire alarm sent him running from the classroom to drive a firetruck, "even though he wasn't old enough to have a driver's license," said his daughter Linda Van Gundy.
Years later, in interviews with local TV stations, "He said the trucks carried flour bags, and the guys would drop flour and leave a trail so that the other trucks would know the way to the fire," his daughter said. "They didn't have radios. Things were pretty simple back then."
After serving in World War II, Mr. McBeath returned to Folsom and opened a gas station and auto parts store next to the firehouse while climbing the ranks from engineer to chief. He joined the Mills Fire Protection District in Rancho Cordova in 1957 and was named chief the next year.
He oversaw fire service improvements as Rancho Cordova grew in the 1960s with the space program at Aerojet. By 1968, he expanded the renamed Rancho Cordova Fire Protection District from one fire station and five full-time workers to five stations and 50 full-time employees, according to a story in The Bee.
Meanwhile, Mr. McBeath was active in the region as a longtime chairman of the Sacramento Fire Advisory Board. He served as regional coordinator for 11 counties for the California Office of Emergency Services, and he advised Gov. Ronald Reagan on development of a statewide mutual aid program.
Elmer Russell McBeath Jr. was born in 1924 in Folsom. His mother, the former Clara Rumsey, belonged to a prominent Folsom pioneer family. He graduated from Folsom High School in 1942.
He served as a crew chief and mechanic in the Army Air Force during World War II. He was a tailgunner on missions in China, Burma and India that flew over "the Hump" the name that Allied pilots gave to the Himalaya Mountains to resupply Chinese forces against the Japanese.
"He talked about how difficult it was, because it was hard for the planes to climb that high," his daughter said. "So many planes crashed that they called that route 'Aluminum Alley.' "
Mr. McBeath was active in fire service, veterans and civic groups.
He was a past president of the California Rural Fire Association, the Tri-District Fire Association and the Sacramento-Yolo Fire Association. He belonged to the China-Burma-India Veterans Association and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6604.
A Georgetown resident since 1980, he was married for 67 years to the former Shirley Carter.
He was predeceased by a daughter, Andrea Johnson, in 2010.
He grew up wanting to join the fire service since he was a young boy. He retired in 1979 from the Rancho Cordova fire agency, which became part of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District.
"When he was 5 years old, the guys in the (Folsom) fire department would pick him up and take him around town painting fire hydrants," his daughter said. "He truly lived his life doing his dream job."
Elmer R. McBeath
Born: June 17, 1924
Died: May 13, 2013
Survived by: Wife, Shirley of Georgetown; children, Steven of Hawaii, and Linda Van Gundy of Sacramento; eight grandchildren; 15 great grandchildren; two great-great-grandchildren
Services: Celebration of life, 11 a.m. Monday at Miller Funeral Home, 507 Scott St., Folsom
Remembrances: Donations in memory of Mr. McBeath may be made to Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California, 2425 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95817.
Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.