ONE-ON-ONE | Reinaldo Sanchez Youngstown firefighter welcomes challenges

Q. Are you carrying on a family tradition of firefighters or are you the first?
A. No, I'm the first. My father worked at the steel mills for 33 years, Sheet and Tube. My mom was a homemaker.
Q. So what drew you to firefighting?
A. I was working at General Motors at the time -- didn't like the work. I was looking for something that would offer sort of a challenge, I would say. It's challenging, it's different. GM was very repetitive. This is totally different. Every day is different.
Q. If you had to do something else to make a living, what would you do?
A. I'd love to be an astronaut.
Q. Anything else?
A. Forest ranger -- that would be a good one.
Q. Did being Hispanic cause you any problems at all?
A. Well, we had two Hispanics before I came on -- the ex-fire chief, Hector Colon, and Johnny Rentas, who is also a captain, so they more or less paved the way. They were first, they took some of the bumps. You always have, when you come to an established environment, people who are going to be this way or that way.
Q. Did you find that people broke off into separate groups?
A. You had two main sections here, the Italians and the Irish and I found myself in between back in 1976 when I got hired. We've made big strides. It's a pretty well mixed group now.
Q. Big strides in what way?
A. The department? Oh, I'd say it's more multicultural. We have more blacks on the job now. We have women now, which we didn't have at the time. The department has gotten younger. We have better equipment. We have breathing apparatuses now . . . when I got on it was sparse. The trucks have roofs on them, you're enclosed now -- at least you get [to the fire] dry. Before, you were wet on the way there, cold on the way there -- no heat.
Q. What's most satisfying about the work?
A. Just helping people. Especially if you can save a life. I think that's every fireman's dream or what they strive for and it's very fulfilling just to do the work, to know what you're doing is helping someone else. Whether it's pulling somebody out of a house, out of a car wreck or helping someone get into a car if their baby's stuck, something like that.
Q. Any idea how many times you've done that over your career?
A. Well, I've got two lifesaving awards and multiple wrecks.
Q. Before you became a captain, as a regular firefighter, did you have to be a short-order cook?
A. We all take our turns cooking. My policy is, I assign days. I cook on Mondays. No one's barred. You do have to become a cook.
Q. How do you learn?
A. You either watch one of the older guys and he teaches you or your wife has a recipe, mama has a recipe, grandma has a recipe and then you come down here and try it out on us. Experimentation is what it is.
Q. Have the guys ever said what kind of a cook you are?
A. Well, I consider myself a good cook but you gotta ask them. Sometimes you pass, sometimes you don't pass, let me tell you.
Q. What's your favorite fire station meal, to cook?
A. Stir fry. Chinese stir fry.
Q. Does it go over well with the crew?
A. It goes over big.
Q. Can you sum up, in a few words, fire station meals, not just what you cook?
A. Oh, got to have enough, got to have plenty of it, got to be moist -- we got a lot of dunkers -- they like to dunk. It's got to taste good. That's it, got to be wet and got to taste good and got to be plenty.
Q. A lot of firefighters -- because of one day on, two days off -- have other jobs, do you?
A. No, not to say. I work on small engines. I'm a small engine mechanic. Lawn mowers, chain saw, tractors. I [once] had my own business.
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I have three kids in college, I don't have too much time for fun, I gotta work. I drive for an auction place -- you pick up money where you can, it's either home improvements, odd jobs.
Q. A lot of people probably wonder what firefighters do to pass the time between fires -- not the routine stuff like checking equipment or training -- just down time?
A. Some read. Some watch sports, work on hobbies, work on things that you bring from home.
Q. What's your favorite thing to do during down-time?
A. Read. Mostly Auto Week and Time, that type of stuff, but there's not much time because there's somebody always calling you for something. I repair the airpacks here and I'm also in charge of the compressors, keeping the air systems up.
Q. That's because of your talent with small engines?
A. Right, mechanically inclined. I was a crew chief in the Army, fixed helicopters. I like machinery.
XTHE WRITER/ The interview was conducted by Patricia Meade, Vindicator crime reporter.

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