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Latino firefighters promoted to command posts

By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa


Dec. 27, 2011: A Toledo Fire Dept. promotion ceremony served as a coming-of-age service for a number of Latino firefighters who took the oath to lead their fellow firefighters. The group included a pair of Latino brothers and others who now represent the upper echelons of the fire service, including two of the department’s top administrators.


Capt. Hector Solis received his promotional bars at the One Government Center ceremony just prior to the New Year. The 50-year old fire captain joked that he would “still outrank” his younger brother Robert, 44, who was promoted to lieutenant during the same ceremony.


“It feels really good because it takes a lot of effort and time to study and also you have to put your two years in as a lieutenant to get the next promotion,” said Capt. Solis. “It feels good.”


Immediately following his promotion, Capt. Solis poked good-natured fun at his younger brother, pointing out his lieutenant promotion to follow.


“I still outrank him,” he said to laughter from the crowd. “As I should, I have our whole life.”

Lt. Robert Solis played along with his older brother’s jab, pointing out during his own swearing in that  he hadn’t planned on bringing up the whole brother thing, but “he started it.”

“You know how it goes: I’m older and he’s younger,” said Capt. Solis. “It’s kind of always the older brother outranks the younger brother. In the Mexican community, the oldest always has a place of honor. They have a lot of say in the family, so we’ve always been like that where we joke with each other.”


The younger Solis joined the department in 1992; his older brother was in the next fire class a year later. The two brothers took the fire exam together on the same day at the Seagate Center downtown. Hector was working at Whirlpool in Findlay at the time. Robert was working for a lawn-care company in Columbus and served in the Ohio National Guard at the same time.


Hector explained that Robert’s commander suggested he take the fire exam in Toledo. Hector also had taken and passed exams for the FBI, Toledo Police Dept. and Ohio Highway Patrol and was awaiting a call from both law enforcement agencies when he decided to take the fire exam as well. Both men had recently graduated from Ohio State University.


However, the two brothers took the fire civil service test alongside more than 2,000 other people and Hector admitted he didn’t like his chances of passing, even though he had gone over the study packet several times during his breaks at Whirlpool.


chief luis santiago

assistant chief phil cervantes

lt greg segura

“The fire department was actually the first one that came through,” said Capt. Solis. “The fire department offered me a job first and I took it and then I told everybody to take me off their list and I’m actually glad the fire department worked out because it’s really fulfilling, the schedule and the benefits are really something you can’t beat.”


After months of conflicting schedules, Assistant Chief Phil Cervantes took the ceremonial oath of office for his post, to which he was first appointed last summer. Cervantes oversees the fire prevention bureau, which enforces fire and building codes, performs safety inspections, and public education sessions. The assistant fire chief also is in charge of the EMS and fire training bureau, which provides ongoing training and education to the city firefighting force.


Now the top two administrative officials in the Toledo Fire Dept. are Latino, a fact not lost on Capt. Solis. Fire Chief Luis Santiago was named to his current post last summer.


“I have thought about that,” he said. “Obviously, Chief Santiago and Chief Cervantes are really intelligent men. It kind of tells you that times have changed, because in the past, it probably wouldn’t have happened. It makes me proud, you know.”


Capt. Solis recalled that Fire Chief Santiago has pointed out that being a Latino command officer makes him a role model. The newly-appointed fire captain pointed to the soaring Latino high school dropout rate as an opportunity to possible make a difference in the lives of at-risk teens.

Capt. Solis raised a son, now 23, as a single father himself.


“I don’t know whether it’s because they don’t have support at home or role models to keep them from joining the gangs or what,” he admitted. “It’s just disturbing and I guess I’m now in a position to be a role model. I have thought about getting involved in the schools or programs that help young men realize that there’s something more than gangs and that you can do well, but you have to finish school.”


Lt. Solis has remained with the Ohio National Guard since joining the Toledo Fire Dept. He has been called away a number of times for active military duty, deployed to Kosovo in 2003 and 2004, serving a stint in Louisiana a year later in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and doing a tour of duty in Iraq in 2006 and 2007.


“It’s an honor,” said Lt. Solis of his promotion alongside his brother. “He’s the captain, so technically he can order me around.”


Others sworn in during the promotion ceremony include Battalion Chief Rick Syroka, Capt. Mike Armstrong, and Lieutenants Greg Segura, John Scouten, Kim Hood, Tim Treadaway, and Pat Lanahan. Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago presided over the ceremony.

Copyright © 1989 to 2012 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 01/03/12 12:19:47 -0800.





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