Contemplating his career choices, Holtville Fire Chief Alex Silva recalls falling under the sway of former El Centro Police Officer Joe Ramsey who many in the law enforcement community called a jovial spirit that warmed hearts.
"His demeanor and how much he loved the job convinced me to be a police officer when I was graduating Holtville High School," Silva recalled, adding Ramsey is also his former father-in-law.
But not long after, while on a Christmas shopping run to San Diego, Silva was passing through the mountains in western Imperial County and along with others stopped to help the victims of a vehicle crash.
"I wanted to do more but lacked the training," he remembered. "We saved the young daughter but lost her father, the driver. When I got back to Imperial Valley I spoke with Paco Perez (Holtville firefighter) and he convinced to take EMT (emergency medical technician) training at Imperial Valley College."
Silva joined Holtville Fire in 1992 and became the chief in 2008.
A rigorous challenge cropped up right from his start. Widespread rioting and violence erupted in Los Angeles in April 1992 after four police offers were found not guilty of beating motorist Rodney King.
"They set up a strike team here to go to Los Angeles," said Silva. "It was something out of the movies--surreal. "
That would not be the last strike team on which Silva would and since 2016 he has been the area's organizational coordinator for the team. He deployed for the Mendocino Complex Wildfire in fall 2018.
"Teamwork was the main topic, because when you have a 150,000-acre wildland fire you need cooperation," said Silva. "We had 2,500 fire fighters working as one. It was like a city."
It was also Silva who helped organize last spring's active-shooter-scenario training by preparing a simulated attack on Holtville High School. There were 79 participating responders, including El Centro police and the Imperial County Sheriff's Office. The main objective was to prepare for a safe rescue while interacting well with other law enforcement.
"I thought it was great and I'd like to do it once a year," said Silva. "But the high school is the only open campus here and that means assailants could move in anywhere. We think it's better if they kept it secure but it’s up to the high school."
Yet the job is not all nail-biting danger for firefighters. They participate in many events, such as opening pool day, and organize the Christmas tree lighting in Holt Park.
"It puts you in the Christmas spirit, definitely," said Silva.
The Guardian Angel program has firefighters donating clothes, shoes and gift cards to underprivileged children. All gifts are wrapped and distributed at the Holtville fire station as children meet with Santa Claus.
"We had 16 kids last year and I'd like to grow the program each year," Silva said.
Other important events include the Fill-a-Boot campaign three times a year that benefits the Burn Institute, donating 50 pairs of athletic shoes to Finley Elementary School, Pink Shirts for cancer awareness, autism day and walk-to-school day to acquaint children with fire and police personnel.
The above events are organized in collaboration with the Holtville Fire Fighters Association, explained Eric Espinoza, firefighter and association president.
"We're involved in a lot civic engagement and I'm grateful to Chief Silva and the other firefighters for the support for all we do," said Espinoza. "I love doing all the events we have going because it gives us a chance to give back to the community."
Despite earning modest salaries, Silva noted it would be difficult to estimate a value on the work firefighters perform.
"To be honest, there's no price you could put on what these guys do," he said. "They put their lives on the line for the community."
He added the job can vary daily, from fire suppression to medical service, as well as less common service.
"Sometimes we go to where somebody passes away," said Silva. "Or we'll go to a call like we got last night. My guys assisted with a childbirth. Mama and baby are doing fine. It was my fourth time assisting with a delivery. Now we all get to wear stork pins on our uniforms. The call of duty is different here every day."