By Pat Caldwell
NYSSA – To Eric Menchaca, fire is alive.
“It doesn’t care how old you are or your race. It is going to burn and it will hurt you,” Menchaca, 34, said.
For the past 12 years, as a member of the Nyssa Volunteer Fire Department, Menchaca learned about the destruction a blaze can inflict on grassland, property and people.
Menchaca conveys his experience in a low-key way but his firefighting know-how will be crucial after he was named the department’s new chief. A chief, Menchaca receives a small stipend per month from the city.
Menchaca will replace Randy Fales, who recently retired.
Menchaca’s department consists of the city and rural fire agencies - with 20 volunteer firefighters. Menchaca works fulltime for Treasure Valley Paramedics as an emergency medical technician.
Menchaca said he became a firefighter because, “it just sounded fun and interesting.”
Menchaca said his post also allows him to give back to the community.
“When they have an emergency, I like going and making sure they are OK,” said Menchaca.
Menchaca, named assistant chief in 2013, said he will keep the department moving ahead on the path established by Frales where the department strives to provide quality and timely service.
Menchaca said he still gets a rush when responding to an emergency but admitted some calls linger.
“It is stressful at times,” he said.
His most stressful emergency call are, “anything that involves kids,” said Menchaca.
In the aftermath of a fire two years ago, said Menchaca, he helped sift through the rubble and ash of a burned home to find a victim.
“I had to go and make sure that was the body. It was hard,” said Menchaca.
Typically, said Menchaca, five to eight volunteer firefighters respond to an emergency call. If the emergency is serious, more firefighters are called.
Menchaca said he deliberately devotes time to his children and wife to help alleviate the stress.
Menchaca said his enthusiasm for helping the community has not waned.
“I still get the same rush I did 12 years ago. When the fire is out the rush goes away but when its going it’s pretty exciting,” said Menchaca.
The experience level of the firefighters in his department – which consists of 18 men and two women - is a huge advantage during an emergency, said Menchaca.
“We have several firefighters that can do the job until a fire officer arrives,” said Menchaca. “They are a good bunch, just like a regular family.”
Becoming a volunteer firefighter is a straightforward.
“Get an application, we’ll do a background check. Then we will bring you up at one of the meetings to let the department interview you. Then we talk about it as a group and vote for you,” said Menchaca. Menchaca said his department is always looking for more volunteers.
The life of a volunteer firefighter is one of unexpected disruption, Menchaca said. A volunteer firefighter can be called out in the middle of their regular job or late at night. But Menchaca said it is a life he relishes.
“That is what makes it fun. It is always a different call and keeps you wanting to participate even more,” said Menchaca.
Have a news tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.