Born in Mexico, Sergio Lopez-Sanchez came to the States when he was three years old. He grew up in Polk County, spending most of that time in Winter Haven.
The now 28-year-old remembers the moment he knew he wanted to be a firefighter, saying, “Back when I was in high school, in the area that I live there happened to be a structure fire – a house burning – and I saw the crews coming in and fighting the fire and I thought that was something I would want to consider when I grow up.”
After high school, he went to Polk State College to earn his EMT certificate, followed by the Ridge Fire Academy to become a firefighter. He was hired on with the Winter Haven Fire Department in December of 2017.
A dangerous job, working 24-hour shifts at a time, Lopez-Sanchez takes pride in what he does. “To me, it’s a rewarding career,” he said. “It’s a way that I can give back to the community, to serve them in a way.”
With a year and a half under his belt, Lopez-Sanchez considers his fellow WHFD firefights to be a second family – a feeling that was almost immediate. “It was quick,” said Sergio. “They were quite accepting of me, they helped me get adjusted into the fire department, into this new role in my life.”
Though these heroes are constantly on the alert, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a little fun with each other. How could they live for 24-hours with each other and not have a few laughs? One thing they do to rookies when they’re returned from their first major fire is to shave their head – Sergio was no exception.
Lopez-Sanchez walked us through what’s going whenever the tone drops. “Whenever we get a call, we try to be mentally prepared and think about what our plan of attack is going to be – whether it’s a medical or a fire call, we try to figure out a plan ahead of time so that everything can be coordinated smoothly on scene,” he said. “As soon as we get in the truck, we start communicating with our crew.”
He explained that they use a computer in the truck called a CAD (Computer-Assisted Dispatch), which he said, “gives us a little summary of what’s going through dispatch. We read through that and it gives us an idea of what we’re going into.”
Knowing a little bit about what they’re going into allows them to formulate the best way to control the situation when they arrive on the scene.
When Lopez-Sanchez isn’t working, he’s spending time with his family. In their family of six, Sergio is the oldest of four siblings.
“Our family is really close,” he said.
The tight-knit family makes time for each other whenever they can, often doing activities on the weekends together like going to a theme park or out to dinner.
The firefighter’s family is proud of the career he’s making. When he first set his sights on being a firefighter/ EMT, they were worried about how dangerous it would be. But Sergio knew exactly what he was getting into and that it would be fulfilling.
And it has been. He loves his job. “Well, it’s not really a job if you enjoy what you’re doing, and this is one of those. I’m happy to come in here every third shift,” he said.
Making a Difference
The crew continues to remain professional and prepared for any situation that may arise throughout the shift. According to Sergio, “If there’s downtime throughout the day, we try to complete our daily functions like our chores, reports – every shift we have daily activities we have to do or some type of training.”
Being this mentally alert can be exhausting, so Sanchez-Lopez uses his days off to recoup and take a little time for himself, to have a calm, relaxing day. “There are times we run double-digit calls on a shift or we get calls at night that keep us from sleeping, but it’s okay. I love what I do, and I know that’s part of the career,” he said.
He wouldn’t trade this career for anything. He always looks forward to coming into C shift. It is an interesting job in which anything can happen at any time. Knowing that he can make a difference in the community whenever he comes into work means a lot to the firefighter.