AURORA | Aurora Fire Chief Mike Garcia is retiring from the department after nearly a decade at the helm.
Garcia started with Aurora Fire in 1978 as an apprentice firefighter and has since worked his way through the ranks, holding the ranks of lieutenant and captain before becoming battalion chief in 2000.
In 2004 he took a job as training chief before going back to battalion chief in 2004, a position he has held until he was named chief in 2007.
Garcia said this week his last day with the department will be Oct. 31.
With five children and a 10th grandchild on the way this year, Garcia said he is looking forward to spending time with his family.
Garcia is the department’s first Latino fire chief and he said he hopes the fact that he rose to the top of the department can spur other minorities to come work for Aurora fire.
The department has focused in recent years on making the department more diverse and Garcia said he hopes that work continues.
“I hope that I am laying a foundation for the next fire chief,” he said.
When Garcia came to Aurora fire in the 1970s, the department was far from diverse. Garcia said he was one of three Hispanic firefighters on a department that had just one black firefighter and zero women.
Today, 12 of the department’s 334 firefighters are black, 29 are Hispanic and 24 are women.
“We’ve been pretty successful in comparison,” Garcia said.
While Aurora fire is 73 percent white males, Garcia said that just in his nine years as chief the department has steadily become more diverse. When he took over, the department was 80 percent white males and included just 16 Hispanic firefighters.
To continue the often-challenging work of recruiting future firefighters, Garcia said he hopes the department focuses on younger candidates.
“I believe you need to start in the junior high schools and the high schools and give young men and women the opportunity to see this as a career,” he said.
The department has also taken great strides to improve it’s life-saving services, Garcia said.
A decade ago, the department had 43 paramedics. Today, there are 161, and 18 of the 29 recruits in the current academy will graduate as paramedics.
Garcia said that’s crucial because the bulk of calls the department responds to are medical calls. A generation ago, people had to wait for a paramedic to arrive. Now, Garcia said, as soon as the fire department arrives there is usually a paramedic on the fire crew.
“The end result of that is that lives are saved,” he said.
Kim Stuart, a spokeswoman for the city, said city leaders will soon start their search for Garcia’s replacement.