La Verne Magazine
"The Latino Community in La Verne: Struggle, Progress
David A. Castañon:
Playing With Fire
by Enedina Perez
photography by Rhidian Maehl
Proud of the community that he serves, La Verne firefighter David A.
Castañon is fulfilling his lifetime goal. Castañon, a family
man, chose to raise his family in La Verne after experiencing the benefits
of growing up in this community.
Inside the toy chests of American homes is usually a shiny red fire
truck-complete with ladders and sound effects. For David A. Castañon,
playing with this miniature version was not enough. He wanted to play with
the real thing.
Following his childhood dream to become a fireman is exactly the goal
that La Verne firefighter Castañon accomplished.
Castañon, 39, who was born and reared in La Verne, has held
his position as a fire fighter for six years. He says he became motivated
to join the fire ranks through his involvement in the ROP, a work opportunity
program at Bonita High School. According to Castañon, this program
was transferred from the San Gabriel Valley, and it offered a class that
provided an orientation on fire technology. "During the first hour,
it inspired me," he says. "I got adrenaline right away, more than
in any other class. The instructor was real good." He recalls the instructor's
advice as being, "If you have the desire, you'll make it; just stick
Besides this inspirational experience, Castañon also remembers,
as a child, the sight of Santa Claus riding on a fire truck giving out candy
to the children in the La Verne community. He proudly says that this tradition
has stayed alive for 70 years.
After graduating from high school in 1977, he began to take as many
classes as he could at Mount San Antonio College. He is still working on
his associates degree in fire technology. "We always tell our young
individuals who are trying to get on our fire service that in [this] service
we're constantly taking classes," he says. "School does not end."
Castañon took on the opportunity to work 10 years in the Metropolitan
Water District as a mechanic until he became a reserve fire fighter and
was eventually hired full time.
Although he had previous jobs before getting into his present career,
Castañon never lost sight of his goal. "In my heart, I knew
I was going to be a fireman in one way or another," he says.
A major factor in Castañon's decision to work in La Verne was
that he grew up in the city. "That kind of opened the door for me
and set me off to this [field]," he says. "I already knew exactly
what I wanted to do in my life. I actually started here. This was the original
station before they rebuilt the whole public safety building. Growing up
in a small town community has been fun and very interesting, because everybody
knows everybody here in town," he says.
"I have ventured off to other cities, and this city is very special,
because everybody takes care of everybody in this city. I love La Verne."
Castañon, whose father is from Texas while his mother was born in
La Verne, says that his mom has been here since the city was called Lordsburg.
"She has seen a lot of things change in La Verne, from orange trees
to the buildings and freeways coming through here," he says. "La
Verne's gone through big transitions. I think we're the tops as far as our
local cities. La Verne's battled the good and bad, and it is still a good,
quiet community to live in," he says.
By choosing to stay in La Verne, Castañon has developed a role
with the community. "I am there to help out in any community function,"
he says. These roles include working with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education,
(D.A.R.E.) program, the Humane Society, fund raisers, Christmas programs
and Fire Prevention Day, which takes place in the fall to offer the community
awareness on public, earthquake, fire and home safety.
"I give back to the community what it has given me," says
Castañon. "I am just another supporter who is keeping the community
Castañon has never regretted his chosen career; on the contrary,
he enjoys it to the fullest. "I love my job," he says. "I
look forward every day to come to work. There's never been a day that's
been the same; it's always different. It's challenging, rewarding, and it
motivates me more and more."
Castañon's self-fulfilling job consists of a full day that runs
from 7:50 a.m. to 9 p.m. At 7:50 a.m., he meets for briefing. Here, the
Department discusses the tasks that need to be done during the day with
the first shift.
Castañon's actual day begins at 8 a.m. At this time, he conducts
discussions with his shift partners, as well as receives the plans for the
day from his captain. This gathering is followed by 30 minutes of physical
After he showers, the team is assigned regular house duties, which rotate
every four to six months.
Castañon's personal duties on this given rotation are to take
care of the downstairs area, including the parking lot, the conference room,
the captain's room and the chief offices.
After he receives his duties, Castañon normally does his regular
station maintenance tasks. This task runs until lunch time. According to
Castañon, his afternoons conclude at 5 p.m. after doing company inspections
and special drills.
At 5 p.m., the crew usually shuts down. Then, they get ready for dinner
and are in bed by 9 or 10 p.m. In the morning, they are ready to begin the
Castañon notes that in between these hours, the Department runs
calls all day long, depending on the type of day. "Some days are dry,
and some days constantly involve running calls all day long," he says.
Besides responding to fire calls, Castañon says that he also
assists on all medical calls. "We're EMT, so when we go on call, whether
it is medical or fire, we work on patients," he says. "We set
up and pull the drugs out for the medics."
Even though Castañon loves his job, he understands that it comes
with some strings attached-the work shifts. La Verne fire fighters work
two days straight and rest four.
Married to his wife Kathy and the father of two boys, Jeremy, 8 and
Brent, 4, Castañon says that although he misses his children and
his family on those long work shifts, they were prepared for all of the
duties that a firefighting career entails.
"I knew that [the work shift] was going to take place," says
Castañon. "It's just the way of life. I have no problem. They
[the children] also understand dad's a fireman." He says that his wife
agreed to his hectic work schedule when they first met and has been very
supportive ever since. "She is highly motivated to back me up,"
Aside from understanding and being prepared for the work shifts, Castañon
is also fully aware of the risks that the career of a fire fighter faces.
"We're in a dangerous job. But we're all a team, and we all back
one another," he says. "So I have the confidence that nothing
is going to ever happen, but, unfortunately, you always have that one percentage
that something will happen. That's the nature of the job."
With this in mind, Castañon remembers his most frightening experience
on the job. "It takes a lot to get me frightened, but I guess the most
frightening experience was on the Laguna fire," he says.
"I was more frightened for the residents that we pulled out on
a big fire of that magnitude. It was frightening for the people in the houses
that needed to be evacuated. We even had an evacuation plan ourselves, just
in case the fire did jump the line and was going to burn us, as well as
our fire trucks. I guess when you get something of that magnitude, it was
a little frightening. But through training and experience, we were able
to stop the fire at that point."
In contrast, Castañon talks about his best experience-the day
that he was hired as a firefighter for the La Verne Fire Department.
"I still get chills on my skin when I think about it," he
says. "I worked so hard on it. I put a lot of community service in
the town, and my enthusiasm that I dedicated to the city paid off."
Throughout Castañon's career, he has had the support from not
only his wife, but also his parents.
"They were very supportive as far as always heading me in the right
direction," he says smiling. "They made sure that my education
was always there, as well as the community involvement.
"They're proud of me for where I'm at, what I've done, and what
I'm still doing." Besides showing support, Castañon's parents
also provided him with the value to respect others.
"It's unfortunate that the word 'discrimination' is there,"
he says. "I never had a problem with it. I was raised that you get
along with everybody, so I just took this attitude."
Although discrimination was never a problem for him, Castañon
says what he would have done, if he would have encountered it.
"I would have tried to tell that individual that we are all together
in this," he says. "There is no use for this. It's not going to
go nowhere. It's just going to become hatred and cause problems. "I
had no time for that, so basically, I kept moving on."
This was the attitude that he carried throughout his high school years.
According to him, Bonita High School at that time had approximately 40 percent
Latino students enrolled.
He was involved in a variety of activities and organizations, including
Mecha Club, photography and sports.
"I kept it well balanced," says Castañon. "I figured
if I am going to have friends, I am going to get involved with everybody."
Castañon's commitment and participation played a major role in
the process of traveling through his path of success. "What inspired
me was a lot of dedication in community service," he says. "I
saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I enjoyed it [what I was doing]
at the same time. I wanted to be a tool within the system."
He adds, "I'm still not done. I am very high spirited and often
give more of what's expected of me, but it's just me."
Castañon also feels grateful toward his parents for raising him
with not only the English language, but also Spanish.
"I feel it's part of my heritage," he says. "It's part
of me. I'm glad I can use it in society. The more languages you know the
better. I thank my parents for that; for teaching it to me."
Aside from the advice that his parents offered him, Castañon
also acquired other valuable advice from fellow retired firemen.
"They gave me some words of wisdom," he says. "I call
it the four E's. If you have exposure, education, experience and enthusiasm,
you will succeed in this world. You'll come on some stumbling blocks, but
you just jump right over and keep going."
With all the helpful advice that Castañon has acquired throughout
the years, he gives out his own advice to today's youth.
"Stay in school and get involved with the community," he says.
"Make yourself a part of the community. Make more contacts, because
the more people that help you out, the more goals you will be achieving."
Castañon is currently working at becoming an engineer, which
is a higher level in the Department and whose job is to be in charge of
the entire fire truck. He plans to eventually retire after putting in many
years as a fireman.
In the meantime, Castañon continues to enjoy his desired profession,
which involves operating a real life size fire truck.
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