Calif. Fire Department Hires First Paid Firefighters in 100 Years
Ventura County Star, Calif.
Jan. 21—The Fillmore Fire Department hired three non-management firefighters in December, the first in its more than 100-year history.
Since its founding in 1914, firefighters served the department on a volunteer basis with only captains and chiefs receiving pay, officials said.
A federal grant has allowed the city of about 15,000 to hire three paid, full-time firefighters. The new hires are Jordan Castro, 26, Mike Salazar, 37, and Clair Morgan, 28.
The three began their full-time tenures in January.
"They will set the mark," said Fillmore fire Chief Keith Gurrola.
There will be a higher expectation to show leadership, he said.
Castro, Morgan and Salazar, all former volunteers for the department, were selected from a pool of almost 20 candidates, Gurrola said. The selection process was a challenge, the chief said.
"I knew I was going up against a lot of good people," said Castro, a Fillmore native and five-year volunteer. "I knew it was going to be tough."
Castro said he was shocked to learn that he had been selected.
"I had waited my whole life for that day," he said. "It didn't feel real."
Prior to being hired, Castro had served as an EMT in Azusa and a seasonal firefighter for CalFire and had applied to fire agencies throughout California.
It's an awesome feeling to serve the city I grew up in, he said.
Castro lives in Ventura with his wife, Melissa Castro, and their children Jadyn, 7, Addison, 4, and Mason, 2.
Salazar, from the San Fernando Valley, said being hired was a humbling experience. A lot of people wanted a position, he said.
"There are a lot of good people in that department," he said.
Salazar graduated from paramedic school in 2005 and was hired as a volunteer for Fillmore in 2012.
"It's great to be one of the first," he said, adding that he was excited to help lay a foundation for the department.
Salazar, though, said his approach to his job had not changed since his hiring.
"I always wanted to maintain a high level of professionalism," he said.
We have to make sure that we continue to train well, he said.
Salazar lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife, Carrie Salazar, and his son Enzo, 4.
Morgan, a CSU Northridge graduate and Ventura native, had served as a behavioral therapist for autistic children and an emergency room tech at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital before attending a U.S. Forest Service diversity boot camp in 2015
It was as part of a hand crew during a wildland fire that she found her desire to be a firefighter, joining the Fillmore fire as a volunteer in 2017.
"I love the job," she said.
Like Castro, Morgan had also applied to other fire agencies and had received a job offer from one before accepting the position in Fillmore.
Morgan said she was excited to a part of a team and to be helping the public, but added that she had been the recipient of sexist comments regarding her position as a female firefighter.
No one should have to put up with that, she said. The comments have not discouraged her.
"You have to have confidence in yourself to overcome all that," she said.
"You can do anything you put your mind to."
Morgan lives in Ventura with her son, Bode, 2.
"It's fantastic for the city," Gurrola said regarding the hirings.
The department is now able to staff two full-time firefighters every day, he said.
According to Gurrola, the city had applied for Federal Emergency Mangement Agency grants multiple times and was awarded $485,395 in 2017.
The grant, which provides funding for a total of three years, pays for 75 percent of the salaries for the firefighters with the City of Fillmore required to pay the remaining 25 percent for a period of two years, Gurrola said.
In the third year, the city would be responsible for 65 percent of the salaries while the grant would cover 35 percent. Gurrola said.
Gurrola said he was hopeful that funding for the positions could be maintained by the city.