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Chris Sanchez is the captain of Riverside Fire Company 6, an all-volunteer department serving East Haven. (Photo courtesy of Chris Sanchez )
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For nearly four decades, Chris Sanchez has been involved in firefighting and emergency services. He now serves as the captain of East Haven Fire Department’s Riverside Fire Company 6, an all-volunteer department, but this is only the latest position in a long career in public service.
His interest was piqued in high school when several of his friends became involved with the town’s all-volunteer fire department where Chris grew up in Mahopac, New York. He applied to be a volunteer firefighter while still in high school. Even though he was accepted before graduating, he had to wait until he turned 18 to begin his career.
“I lived in a small town very much like East Haven,” says Chris, who graduated in 1980. “After a couple of friends had gotten involved, I found it was something I could get into, really enjoy, and serve the community right out of high school.”
Just one year later, Chris became an EMT. He spent four years serving his hometown volunteer fire department before he was hired as a career firefighter by the New Haven Fire Department where he worked for 26 years.
Upon being hired in New Haven, Chris moved to East Haven until 2000. Three years later, Chris returned to East Haven where he has lived ever since. He is now married to Pamela.
Chris began his career in New Haven in 1984. He was certified as a paramedic in 1989 and, in 1996, was promoted to lieutenant and then made captain in 1998, serving in that capacity until he retired in 2010. He was also an acting battalion chief prior to retiring.
“Retiring was a very tough decision to make, but it seemed it would be a good time to go as I had gotten as high as I thought I would get in my career,” says Chris. “What I miss most is definitely the camaraderie with my workmates. I worked in several stations through city and several different shifts and there’s a very special bond between firefighters who work together—that’s what I miss the most.”
Though he retired, Chris didn’t see much downtime. His wife, Pamela, had expressed interest in public safety and while they lived in Branford, she worked as a volunteer fighter there.
When they moved to East Haven, she became involved as a volunteer with the East Haven Fire Department and even while working, Chris supported the volunteer company. Upon retiring, Chris immediately stepped up his involvement, serving with Pamela for some time.
“We were both responders for a while and, I won’t lie, sometimes the firehouse business came home and sometimes our personal life entered the firehouse, but it didn’t hurt our relationship at all,” says Chris. “It gave us another thing we had in common.”
Because he’d already been involved in a social and supportive capacity, Chris was familiar with most of the members at Riverside Fire Company 6, the town’s only all-volunteer firehouse. Once retired, Chris focused his energies into volunteering.
“As active member, I moved up the ranks as a volunteer and was voted captain because the company knew my background as a career firefighter and knew that could work out well for the company,” says Chris. “I just grew into the position and the team grew with me.”
As a captain, Chris leads the group of volunteers at Riverside Volunteer Fire Company 6. He also takes care of many of the administrative responsibilities and works with the town’s fire chief and other officers.
“We coordinate what they want from the volunteer company,” says Chris. “In the past, it seemed like there was some tensions at times, however, the respect for volunteers in East Haven has grown quite a bit now it’s more natural for volunteers working with the paid staff.”
Part of easing the tension has been joint training sessions. With many years of firefighting experience and with much of his career spent in a leadership role, Chris has put an emphasis on in-depth training and focused on recruiting new members.
In planning training, Chris works closely with his first lieutenant and training officer, Brian Noyes.
“As captain with my experience and education background, I work with my training officer to plan different training events as well as providing other learning opportunities for our members,” says Chris. “We are always looking out for classes that are interesting and pertinent to firefighters and EMS.”
Over the years, Chris has seen an increase in the number of volunteers who have chosen to become EMTs, noting that about 60 percent of the company’s volunteers are certified. Chris says that while the company’s primary responsibility is responding to fires, having the trained EMT staff allows them to be able to augment other volunteer companies.
Chris is involved in teaching beyond the firehouse as well. He works part-time for Code 1 Training Solutions teaching EMT classes three nights a week, as well as CPR classes. He has also played a “small role” in the Fire Explorers program, which is run by the captains of companies 1 and 4, Chris Dotson and Chris Perdo. If called upon, Company 6 will aid in training drills or even invite the explorers to participate on one of its training sessions.
Though his part-time job and volunteer work take up a lot of Chris’s time, when he is able to, he enjoys riding his motorcycle and fishing. Between them, the couple has six children so they spend much of their free time with family and caring for Chris’s mother-in-law, who lives with them.
Now coming up on 40 years involved in firefighting, Chris is thankful that he grew up in Mahopac where he had the opportunity to volunteer at an early age. He seems many similarities between the hometown in which he grew up and the town he now serves as a volunteer.
“Mahopac was a great place to grow up and one of reasons I chose East Haven [is] it’s similar in size and community makeup and a good place to raise my kids,” says Chris. “The town has a rich history going back to the Revolutionary War, as did Mahopac. It’s a small community where a lot of people know each other.”
One way Chris has found to meet even more members of the community is through volunteering. He encourages anyone interested to reach out. He notes that those interested can visit any of the firehouses, reach out through Facebook, or get information on www.everdayheroct.org.
“If you’re interested, stop in and just ask—they’ll put you in touch with the right person to start the process,” says Chris, noting that most companies have training once a week and business meetings monthly. “Right now, we are going into the season with a few extra training opportunities. Volunteering is a good start for someone who is thinking about a career path in firefighting or public safety. We have had a few who have moved on to career positions because of the foundation they’ve built as volunteer. It is a good starting point to build a career.”
For information, visit EHFD Riverside Volunteer Fire Company 6 on Facebook or visit everydayheroct.org.
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