After 32 years of fighting fires, Naval Air Station Lemoore Fire Chief Gary Alvidrez is hanging up his hat. Dec. 31 was his last day.

“It’s time for me to ease the body and mind of the stress,” Alvidrez said. “I’m looking forward to not being in charge for a while and spending some quality time with my wife, Monique, and the rest of my family.”

Alvidrez joined the NAS Lemoore Fire Department in February 2007. Prior to that, he spent more than 17 years as a firefighter at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. He rose quickly through the ranks to become China Lake’s assistant fire chief.

Being a base firefighter isn’t so different from being a traditional city or county firefighter. They deal with the same rescues, fires and hazmat situations. The major difference is that Alvidrez and his colleagues are trained to deal with fires and hazards involving military aircraft.

“There’s a lot of danger with the aircraft,” Alvidrez said. “Even the fibers inside them are harmful to our well-being. We have to use specialized equipment to protect ourselves.”

But he didn’t always want to be a firefighter. Alvidrez initially went to school to become a park ranger. A chance decision to join the fire reserve at age 16 changed all that. He served in the U.S. Forest Service for five years, yet the allure of being a firefighter kept calling him back.

“It was exciting. I loved working hard and helping people out,” Alvidrez said. “It was wonderful just doing what we could for the public.”

For Alvidrez, community outreach has always been one of the most important parts of the job.

“We serve the public because the public serves us,” he said.

Each year, the fire department assists with National Night Out, a community event raising awareness about public safety while giving citizens the chance to meet with the men and women who keep them safe every day.

Alvidrez and his firefighters also volunteer for many other community events, like bringing Santa out to visit the kids, or using their fire trucks to hoist the American flag during ceremonies.

“He’s been just great for our organization,” Fire Prevention Inspector Connie Williams said. “He has maintained professional standards for us by setting a great example. He’s always strived for us to be the best department we can be.”

The firefighters also hold a safety fair each year, along with a live fire training exercise for the public to see.

During stormy weather, Alvidrez sent his firefighters out to cut up fallen trees on the roads and grounds.

“It’s less cost to the government if we do it,” he said.

A firm supporter of Read Across America, Alvidrez always kicked off the annual day by reading Dr. Seuss books to the children on base. He encouraged the other firefighters to volunteer their time as well.

"The NAS Lemoore Fire Chief, Mr. Gary Alvidrez, has been a model fire chief, fireman, leader, team member and protector of our citizens," said Capt. Monty Ashliman, NAS Lemoore Commanding Officer. "His ability to save and protect lives -- as well as completely support the installation and surrounding communities -- is unmatched."

Alvidrez led not only NAS Lemoore, but the entire U.S. Navy Installation Enterprise by leading two pilot programs for the Navy, Ashliman said. 

The first was to bring the Advanced Life Support (ALS) Paramedics from the medical community to our installation Fire and Emergency Services team. The second was to stand up the U.S. Navy's first Rescue Task Force (RTF), which is a specialized team of EMTs and paramedics who will go into unsafe and unsecured areas under force protection and pull out victims in order to save lives in a hostile environment.

The need for such a task force was realized after the tragic Washington Naval Yard shooting in 2013. 

“The Department of Defense realized we needed a means of providing quicker care for victims who had been shot,” Alvidrez said. “Programs like this had already been established in some metropolitan fire departments, but there was nothing like it in DOD Fire.”

Alvidrez said the DOD came to him after seeing what he did putting the base’s paramedic program together. The task force came about after eight months of planning and went live in October.

Alvidrez said the response from leadership for both programs has been outstanding.

"NAS Lemoore is the first installation for the U.S. Navy that has both ALS and RTF capabilities. Both of these capabilities were stood up safely and well ahead of required timelines," Ashliman said. "Bottomline is that Gary Alvidrez and his team ensured NAS Lemoore can care for its personnel better than any other installation in the U.S. Navy."

Alvidrez, a Bakersfield resident born and raised, is looking forward to skipping a lengthy commute to work each day.

“Staying in one profession for more than 30 years while making an impact on the younger and older generations, that’s the success of my career,” Alvidrez said. “It feels good to make an impact, to make a difference.”

Despite his many years fighting fires, Alvidrez said he’s too young to really retire. He plans to find another job at some point, one where he no longer has to act as a leader and a supervisor.

“Going forward, I have a few opportunities, one to teach at a high school district in Bakersfield, another to providing training to a private company,” he said. “I don’t know which I’ll pick. But it’s nice to have some options.

“I don’t think I’ve been a great chief, but I’ve always strived to be a good chief,” Alvidrez said. “I think I’ve gotten there.”

Reporter with the Hanford Sentinel.

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