Me: Tell us about yourself.
Captain Gustavo Perez (Los Angeles Fire Department): I’m 55 years old and I live in Mission Viejo, Ca. I’ve been married for 30 years to my wife Tamara and we have 2 kids. I’ve been with the Los Angeles Fire Department for about 27 years, recently promoted to the rank of Captain I about 9 months ago into Fire Station 14 in the South Los Angeles area. I suppose when I was young, it was always a dream of mine to be a firefighter someday. Thankfully, I got my chance to become a member of one of the finest fire departments in the nation.
Me: What are some obstacles you’ve encountered in your personal life and as a firefighter?
Capt Perez: A few years ago I was diagnosed with leukemia. By far, it was the most difficult thing on a personal level I have had to deal with. Fortunately, I was able to find a cure in the early stages of the disease that has given me not only a chance to move forward with life, but to also return to duty with the Los Angeles Fire Department. The incredible support that me and my family received from my fellow firefighters was overwhelming. It gave me a whole new respect for the gift of being a member of one the greatest organizations in the fire service.
The toughest part of our job is the time away from home due to the 24 hour platoon duty system. Birthdays and major holidays, for example, are difficult at times for our families. Finding a way to balance family and work can be difficult. Fortunately, the fire station can be a home away from home, and our coworkers become extended family.
One of the bigger incidents I was involved in was the Northridge Earthquake of 1994. It’s hard enough to live in Southern California and deal with natural disasters of this type, but that one was different in that I was on duty in the Silverlake area that day and had to not only focus on providing service, but wonder how my family and home were potentially impacted as well. Keep in mind cell phones were not as big a part of our daily lives back then. It was a while before we had an opportunity to check on our loved ones. We had our hands full as an organization providing service with the wide spread damage as well as the impact on the infrastructure, such as damaged water mains that hampered our ability to affect fire suppression.
Without question, the civil unrest of 1992 comes to mind also. The quantity of incidents taxed our dispatch system very early on, which is essential at all times, especially when we were asked to respond with law enforcement protection for the duration of the event. From the onset, we were actually moving from one incident to another, non stop. Operating in this fashion is far from normal, and it put us in a whole different mode of operation.
Me: What are some of the things you enjoy about being a firefighter?
Capt Perez: One of the most rewarding aspects of being a firefighter is to have the ability to impact peoples lives in a positive way on a daily basis for a living. One of the many benefits of working in a large metropolitan area is the diversity makeup that is Los Angeles, along with the type of challenges it presents to the department. To have the responsibility of protecting everything from the high rises of downtown to the waterfront of the Port of Los Angeles, to an international airport like LAX, all in one city is pretty unique. I would imagine, not just for myself, but for all of our members, having the ability to show up to an incident when things are at there worst and provide some kind of a solution has got to be rewarding in itself. To be able to make a living by providing help is a nice feeling.