Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Ron Herrera could have stopped fighting fires years ago.
But what exactly, he wonders, would he do with himself then?
Honored Monday for wrapping his 45th year with Albuquerque Fire Rescue, the 66-year-old lieutenant has now logged the equivalent of more than two full careers with the department. He once worked alongside the fathers – and, in at least one case, the grandfather – of some of his current peers. His career has included stops at about 10 stations across the city. He is believed to have served longer in the department than anyone else ever has.
“He breaks the record, is that correct?” Chief Paul Dow said as he presented Herrera with a plaque during Monday’s ceremony.
“I think I did that a while back,” Herrera responded to laughter from the colleagues who gathered to celebrate him.
Herrera started in 1973, almost immediately transferring from his initial assignment at a quiet northeast Albuquerque station to a bustling Downtown location where the pace better suited him.
He learned from a generation of firefighters who had previously served in World War II and Korea. Herrera, himself the son of a Bataan Death March survivor, said they were a gritty bunch who valued toughness.
“You could not flinch with them, and that’s what I still have in me – no fear,” he said.
Nearly a half-century later, he said he still savors the adrenaline of a call, the camaraderie of the firehouse and the charge of helping citizens in times of crisis.
“I don’t think I could leave this job,” Herrera said in an interview. “I’d go home and say ‘What am I going to do?’ There’s no action.”
The drama is not always limited to the scene; Herrera in 2012 suffered a heart attack on the truck as the crew was returning from a wildland-related “pack test.”
He credits his colleagues for saving his life that day and still chokes up when discussing it.
After the heart attack, he spent four months doing cardiac rehabilitation.
Then he came back.
Brian Varela, a driver at Station 21, said that is not surprising because Herrera loves the job “more than anybody.”
Varela has known the lieutenant for decades; Varela’s father, a retired firefighter, actually grew up with Herrera.
Herrera is surrounded by people far younger, but he says they never “baby” him or make him feel out of place. And Varela says Herrera still carries his weight.
“Oh, yeah, maybe a little more,” Varela said. “He’s usually the first one to the truck – very gung-ho still. I don’t know how.”
As he accepted his plaque and a new pair of boots from Dow on Monday, Herrera said he can’t fathom the thought of giving up the gig just yet.
“One day will come when I’ll have to,” he said. “But today isn’t that day.”