Arlington’s first Latino deputy fire chief says he first wanted to be a police officer

Londy Ramirez, Arlington Sentinel News

ARLINGTON – Growing up, Arlington Deputy Fire Chief Pedro Arevalo said he wanted to become a police officer, but living with a single mom and three siblings made the dream seem far-fetched.

It wasn’t until his uncle, Roberto De Los Santos–at that time the fire chief of Trophy Club, Texas, and now fire marshall in Dallas County–offered to pay for his police academy.

“I think his goal was to keep me out of trouble because he was worried,” Arevalo said. “It’s a long time before 17 to 21. So he told me, ‘Hey, I will pay for your police academy. I have these certain stipulations.’”

First, his uncle said he had to stay out of trouble. Second, his uncle said he also had to go to the fire academy and EMT school.

“I had no clue what a firefighter did or what EMT was, but I saw it as an opportunity available to someone to pay for my police academy,” Arevalo said. “My mom could never afford it.”

Arevalo was born in Brownsville, Texas, and moved to Arlington when he was 14. His dad was from Reynosa, Mexico, and his mom was a first-generation American.

Arevalo’s dad left when he was about 9, and his mom had to work two or three jobs to take care of Arevalo and his siblings.

In high school, he said he hung out with bad influences.

“I actually had a lot of trouble through school,” he said. “I hung around with the wrong crowd, and you know, I grew up in East Arlington, which is heavily populated with gangs and things like that, so I had no direction growing up in high school,” Arevalo said.

Arevalo went to the fire academy and graduated at the age of 20. Then, he attended the police academy and graduated valedictorian of his class.

“I loved it,” Arevalo said. “I wanted to be a police officer. And then I graduated. My uncle, he was more like a mentor to me. He kind of guided me, a father figure in my house.”

His uncle urged him to test for both police and fire departments.

“I was like, OK, sure,” Arevalo recalled. “So I just did for a couple of fire departments. Arlington hired me, and I got hired here. But also, as a police officer,” he said. “You can also be a reserve officer over the city. They can hold your certification, but you don’t work with the city. You’re just the reserve officer, so I started here.”

A reserve police officer has the primary duty of assisting as needed and working with full-time police.

Arevalo decided to work as both a police officer and a firefighter. He worked with the fire department for 24 hours on, 48 hours off, and on his days off, he served as a reserve police officer.

He was a reserve police officer for about six years, during which time he discovered that he didn’t like being a police officer.

“I was the only one that spoke Spanish, so I was there to deal with the Latinos, and (it) seemed like every time I was either writing a ticket for a mother that couldn’t afford car insurance, didn’t know how to get a driver’s license, undocumented, taking them to jail,” Arevalo said. “It was like a continuing pattern that I just continued to see, and I was always the person because I spoke Spanish.”

Arevalo said the duties weighed on him.

“And then after a couple of years, I decided, you know what, this isn’t for me,” he said. “I think I’m gonna stick with the fire service. It’s more of helping people. And don’t get me wrong. It’s the law and stuff like that. For me personally, I didn’t enjoy it.”

Arlington Deputy Fire Chief Pedro Arevalo said that after deciding he would focus on being a firefighter, his career took off. (Londy Ramirez)

He said that he still held his reserve credentials, but he decided to focus on being a firefighter.

“My career just took off,” he said. “I just focus on my professional development helping the community, and 23, 24 years [later], I’m deputy chief for the fire department.”

Arevalo is Arlington’s first Latino and Hispanic fire chief, and he has held that position since 2016.

He is part of the 8.2% of fire chiefs who are Hispanic or Latino in the U.S., according to fire chief demographics research created by Zippia.

“I’ve been lucky to be the first Latino Hispanic chief here in Arlington, [and it] is a great accomplishment. Very proud of it and I’m very grateful to work with the city I grew up in,” Arevalo said. “Makes me feel good considering I barely made it to high school. I didn’t know where I was going with my life, I found a calling and life blessed me in so many ways.”

There were many positions he had to hold before becoming a deputy.

First is a firefighter, then a driver or an apparatus operator. Next are lieutenants who ride on the engine, who go in and fight fire with a fire hose. That’s followed by the captain, who rides on the ladder truck and whose job is search and rescue, extrication, and specialty skills. And then there’s the deputy chief.

Arevalo is also the president of a non-profit organization called Lone Star Bomberos, whose goal is to provide fire equipment and training to Central and South America.

He also works in the community and tries to involve the fire department so the people in the community can relate to that person, and maybe kids can be inspired by seeing someone like them and believe they can be firefighters as well.

Publisher’s Notes: This story, originally titled “City’s first Latino deputy fire chief says he first wanted to be a police officer, was first published in The Arlington Sentinel News and was republished with permission.

Part of LNN’s mission is to amplify the work of others in providing greater visibility and voice to Hispanic, Latino communities.

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