Every person has a unique place in life that fits his or her personality. Phillip Rodriguez believes this, and he is thankful to have found his own.
Coming from Los Angeles, Rodriguez is equally happy to have moved to Buena Vista in the early 2000s.
When his dad started designing and building homes and commercial buildings around 2003, Rodriguez helped out. “It was good,” he says. “It’s just, for me, it didn’t fulfill everything I wanted to do. I could do it for the rest of my life, but opportunities came up.”
In his case, opportunity arose in the form of becoming a volunteer firefighter.
While in California, Rodriguez had worked for a company that did health screenings for chiropractors and doctors.
During that time, he saw some firefighters at work and was impressed with what he saw. He took a strong interest in that career.
While living in Buena Vista, he decided to pursue that job. As a volunteer firefighter, he would come in to the station once a week and train for 2 hours.
“That doesn’t really meet the full needs that are needed in a department, for one guy to maintain his certifications and level that he’s at,” says Rodriguez. “We do river rescue, we do airport, firefighting, hazmat, medical. We have these different facets, and they all take a lot of time to train for those levels in the capacities that we can work in.”
Rodriguez continued volunteering and training for 7 years, still designing with his father on the side. Not only was it something he had wanted to do since living in California, firefighting achieved something he didn’t have while designing houses.
“It kind of fulfilled life goals and I felt like I could give back to the community,” he says. “As a designer, you spend a lot of time helping people, but it didn’t touch the community the same way this could. I could make a difference in this position.”
Last January, town trustees voted to open a paid position of assistant fire chief. Rodriguez had the right qualifications for the job, so he applied.
While exciting, the upgrade to assistant fire chief came with its challenges. “There’s a lot of paperwork,” Rodriguez explains. “We’re consistently doing pre-incident surveys, always trying to keep ourselves updated with the businesses in the area, the buildings that we have, the type of construction we have.”
Training still takes up many of their hours, though now Rodriguez must see to the training of the other volunteer firefighters, not just his own. Time must also be set aside for things like informing the schools and the community of smoke detectors and fire safety.
One of the biggest challenges for firefighters, he says, is controlling adrenaline and maintaining composure.
When given a situation, he can’t just react to it; he has to stop and think carefully. This is especially challenging when the firefighters are paged for an emergency.
“We get all excited, we rush out the door and we’ve got to think about what we’re doing before we get there, no matter what kind of call it is,” he says.
Rodriguez must keep his pager on hand 5-to-7 days a week. “In the middle of the night, doesn’t matter what time, the pager drops and we come down to the station for whatever type of call it is,” he says. “If it’s just a lift assist or helping somebody out all the way to a severe medical to car accidents to fires, whatever it is, that’s what we’re there for.”
At the end of the day, he’ll usually hit the gym as a source of some much-needed stress relief as well as to stay in shape.
But none of the stress and paperwork can ever keep Rodriquez from loving his job.
He doesn’t go to work; he goes to the firehouse.
“We call it firehouse for a reason, because it’s like a second home,” he says. “Here, we have camaraderie with our guys and that’s something we’ve been working really hard to build over these last years. It’s good to have.”
Their camaraderie extends to all neighboring fire departments as far as Gunnison and Crested Butte. “Anytime we need them, they come right down and they help us out,” says Rodriguez. “They’re all big families, and we love them.”
That said, Rodriguez is in no hurry to leave the fire department, much less Buena Vista. He intends to keep his community protected as long as he can before retirement.
“I don’t know anybody in the fire service that doesn’t love what they do,” he says. “Chiefs, firefighters, it doesn’t matter who they are; otherwise, they wouldn’t be here. If you’re looking for a pat on the back or that kind of thing, this is not the job for you. It’s rewarding for yourself. This isn’t just a job; it’s something you take home, it’s something you are. It’s inside you.”