CHARLOTTE — As the need grows for more Spanish-speaking firefighters in Charlotte, one of the city's very first Latino firefighters is retiring.
Capt. Gustavo “Gus” Navarro received the Roberto Clemente Lifetime Achievement Award Tuesday, after 25 years of service. Despite the honor, Navarro said he is just a regular firefighter.
After he joined the department on June 24, 1987, Navarro became the city's second Latino firefighter.
"I was born in Cuba and came over in 1963 as a three-year-old,” said Navarro.
For more than a decade, Navarro was one of the only three Spanish-speaking firefighters the department had.
"For me, I saw myself as a tool in a toolbag for the fire department. Something they could use that was available to them,” said Navarro.
Navarro said over the past decade, as the Latino population has increased, so have the fire department's efforts to communicate with that population.
"So if we could do any literature, any translations, we had a small cheat sheet we carried on the trucks," said Navarro.
Now, there are 13 Spanish-speaking firefighters with the Charlotte Fire Department. 10 of them are Latino.
"I just started. I graduated May 31 and I've been on for about a month and a half now,” said Station 17 firefighter Moises Nunez.
A Dominican Republic native, Nunez moved to the states when he was a 16-year-old, and has always wanted to be a firefighter.
"This was my third try trying to get into the Charlotte Fire Department. It's very tough, but I definitely don't discourage any Spanish-speaking recruits to com into the department and try,” said Nunez.
Navarro said that desire to be a firefighter and help the community is what really matters, more than anything else.
Last winter, the Charlotte Fire Department began a push to reach out to the Latino community for new recruits. Right now, less than one-percent of the fire department is Latino or speaks Spanish, and they're hoping to increase that number to help improve communication with the growing Latino community in the Charlotte area.