Meet the Valley Hispanic Bomberos shaping Phoenix Fire and beyond
A nonprofit group of Hispanic firefighters connects with the community and mentors potential firefighters
The Valley Hispanic Bomberos, or Los Bomberos (“Firefighters”), was founded in 1986 by a group of Hispanic firefighters working in downtown Phoenix.
It started when a rash of what were believed to be arson fires struck a primarily Hispanic area of the city. A district councilwoman who represented the downtown area approached a few of the city’s Hispanic firefighters, looking for their help to canvas the neighborhood to see what they could learn about the fires.
Interestingly, what they found was not so much information about the fires but rather a lack of understanding and awareness of important fire safety measures within the Hispanic community. Greg Morales, VHB vice president and a captain and technical rescue/hazmat technician with Phoenix Fire, recounts that many residents did not know about the dangers of using candles indoors or of the faulty wiring often found in the area’s older homes and additions.
The firefighters’ ability to communicate with and relate to area residents proved to be invaluable “not only to the Phoenix Fire Department and the City of Phoenix but also to the most important people of all – the citizens,” Morales says.
Los Bomberos was established soon thereafter as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, an affinity group, and a community resource.
The VHB mission
Ask any sworn member what VHB means to them, and their responses will be similar – mentorship, community service, culture and tradition, fellowship and support, and paying it forward.
Through its mission statement, VHB members commit to promoting self-empowerment by honoring their culture and their profession. More simply, “The mission of the Valley Hispanic Bomberos is to help the community in the best way we can,” says Phoenix Firefighter Sal Delgado, VHB member services director.
Delgado notes that Los Bomberos’ volunteers include associate members seeking careers in the fire service and sworn professional firefighters who choose to take on the responsibility of mentoring associate members. Both groups also possess a strong desire to be engaged in the community, he says. They work hand in hand to keep the traditions going, and anyone who wants to be part of the VHB mission is welcome to join.
Spreading safety messages
Not long after VHB was founded, campaigns for fire safety, smoke detectors and other important safety concerns were developed to educate area Hispanic communities.
One such campaign focused on water safety. In the early 1990s, the Maryvale neighborhood of west Phoenix was dubbed the “drowning capital of the world.” The once-affluent neighborhood, built in the early 1950s, was full of backyard swimming pools, making knowledge of water safety critical for current residents.
VHB jumped into action, hitting neighborhoods with a comprehensive water safety campaign, and after just two years, drownings stats plummeted.
VHB mentorship program
As membership grew within the organization, the need to mentor the next generation of firefighters emerged as a priority. The grassroots effort soon included a mentorship program to help lay the groundwork for young men and women who wanted to pursue a career in the fire service and maintain high standards of public service.
“The mentorship side of Los Bomberos is a key part of this organization and is something all of us have a hand in from the moment we get hired,” says Phoenix Firefighter-Paramedic Antonio Morales, VHB mentorship director. “Mentorship is something that never stops.”
Morales notes that the firefighters who serve in the mentorship program feel a special sense of pride in serving as role models to young Hispanic men and women who come from the same neighborhoods, schools and family backgrounds as they do.
“To be an example that one of these young individuals can look to and say to themselves, ‘If they can do it, I can do it!’,” he says, “is again something to be proud of. This is why our mentorship program is so important to us.”
As part of the mentorship program, a group of firefighters work with associate members to prepare them for Phoenix Fire’s testing process. The program includes bimonthly skills courses to prep for the physical demands of the job. VHB has also worked with Phoenix Fire and Local 493’s peer fitness instructors to develop weightlifting programs to help with strength and conditioning. Additionally, the mentorship program helps associate members prepare for Phoenix Fire’s written test and interview process through the use of study guides and mock interviews.
Several success stories have emerged from the mentorship program.
VHB Secretary Anthony Franco detailed his experience:
I am a Phoenix firefighter because of my mentors. I was shaped into and truly believe in the culture of paying it forward and that is what the Valley Hispanic Bomberos are about. The path of currently being a firefighter paramedic, the station I am at, becoming the Bomberos secretary, and my future in this career will be guided by the advice I get from my mentors and the Valley Hispanic Bomberos.
During my probation, my wife had our first child, Andri. We had to spend 8 days in the hospital due to my wife being diagnosed with preeclampsia. I had so much support from VHB, especially from the current president. He came by the hospital and spent some time with my wife and me just to make sure we had everything we needed. I will never forget that, and it’s people like that who inspired me to get involved and give back to the fire department and, more importantly, the Valley Hispanic Bomberos.
VHB believes in the future of not only the department and creating great products within our associate members but also giving back to the community. I was born and raised in Phoenix, and I have developed a passion for helping good people become Phoenix firefighters. I look forward to not only progressing my career but also VHB.”
VHB Member Services Director Saul Delgado shared his experience with VHB:
When I first heard about the testing process and the steps to become a firefighter, I was intimidated. I had no resources, no one to show me the ropes, I was on my own – until one day, I walked in to a get a haircut at my brother’s barbershop and struck up a conversation with Jorge Enriquez. At the time, Jorge was a fire captain and the vice president of the VHB. He invited me to his station, Firehouse 39, for a ride-along and introduced me to his crew.
Before that day, I had never stepped foot inside a fire station so didn’t know any firehouse etiquette. I was green, I had no idea of what was expected of me, but I knew that this was an opportunity that would not come again. I worked hard, asked questions, and took full advantage of the opportunity.
With the help of the Valley Hispanic Bomberos, I became a firefighter recruit and eventually earned the rank of firefighter. I was one of the few candidates to only go through the testing process once. Without the help of VHB, my road to becoming a firefighter would have been a lot longer and harder.”
Scholarships for high school seniors
VHB runs a scholarship program supported by various fundraisers. The program awards several scholarships each year to high school seniors on their way to college – typically students who are interested in continuing their education in pursuit of a public safety career.
Instructors will identify students who exhibit a strong work ethic, integrity, discipline and self-motivation, and recommended them to VHB as potential candidates. VHB then typically asks each candidate to write an essay explaining why they want to pursue a public safety career and how a scholarship will help them on their journey. For students who are selected for a scholarship, VHB earmarks funds in their name for them to use toward community college classes like EMT or a Fire 1 and 2 certification.
The ultimate goal for VHB members is to donate their time, talents and resources to helping students develop their careers. As the local community supports Los Bomberos, they in turn give back to the community. It is a circular process that allows them to continue to educate and mentor the next generation of Bomberos.
Another way VHB helps identify potential new firefighters is Camp Thunder/Franklin, an event for which VHB partners with Franklin Police and Fire High School in central Phoenix – a one-of-a-kind high school that gives inner-city youth the opportunity to participate in police and fire programs.
Held on Franklin’s campus, the week-long camps introduce students to the core values and expectations of the school’s program. The camps provide a unique opportunity for students to participate in team-building exercises and develop bonds with their fellow classmates.
In summer 2022, there were approximately 100 participants in Camp Thunder/Franklin.
Fundraisers and events/donations
When it comes to funding VHB’s efforts, Phoenix Firefighter and VHB Treasurer Alex Fernandez, says, “The Valley Hispanic Bomberos takes an enormous amount of pride in the relationships they have built throughout their communities over the years with both private and non-private donors, as both are vital to the organization’s success.” In fact, donations come equally from private individuals and business organizations.
The organization also raises funds for its various programs through several annual events and participating in other activities as opportunities arise. A few events still to come this year include the Señor Chelada 1st Annual Fall Fest on Oct. 22, 2022, and the 2nd Annual VHB PICKLEBRAWL Tournament on Dec. 10, 2022. Last year’s inaugural PICKLEBRAWL tournament allowed VHB to award five $1,000 scholarships to high school seniors, and 100% of the proceeds of the event went directly to the organization’s scholarship program.
VHB membership impact
Today, VHB has a robust membership of active, retired and associate members. There are approximately 1,200 active and retired members, reports Daniel Fraijo, VHB president and a captain, paramedic and hazmat technician with the Phoenix Fire Department. Associate members number from 80 to 100, depending on where they are in the hiring process.
Membership in Los Bomberos “is a critical step to becoming a Phoenix firefighter,” Franco adds. “The Valley Hispanic Bomberos gives you a paved road to success. All it takes from an individual is hard work, dedication and humility, and they will achieve their goal in becoming a Phoenix firefighter.”
He continues: “Once an associate member puts on that grey Valley Hispanic Bomberos shirt and their journey begins, eyes open toward that individual. The Valley Hispanic Bomberos has an undeniable reputation of creating great products in our associate members and with that sets the bar for any individual who puts on that shirt.”
VHB leaders share parting reflections on what the group has meant to them.
VHB Secretary Anthony Franco: “The VHB has brought many things in my life, with friendship being the most important – anyone from mentors to people who were in my academy to people who taught both my EMT and paramedic class down at Phoenix College. These people have been there from day one, and I honestly don’t know where I would be without them. The VHB also brings a sense of self-contentedness. Because of where I come from, I am blessed to be not only a Phoenix firefighter-paramedic but also the VHB secretary. Because of that, I feel like I have a responsibility to help and give back to the VHB for believing in me and guiding and helping me get to where I am today. Helping people become a Phoenix firefighter and being a part of an organization that impacts people’s lives in a positive way is amazing. I will continue to give back though VHB for the rest of my career.”
VHB Treasurer Alex Fernandez: “Being a member of the Valley Hispanic Bomberos means that I’m part of an organization that is truly rooted in culture and tradition. What that means for Los Bomberos is that we take pride in being involved in a community that a lot of us came from and now are fortunate enough to serve, from our neighbors to our local businesses and everything in between. Having and building that rapport and relationship is important to our organization as a whole. As a nonprofit, we count on the continued financial support from both private and business donors, which in turn helps us advance and strengthen our efforts in our community outreach and/or mentorship program.”
VHB Member Services Director Saul Delgado: “Being a member of the Valley Hispanic Bomberos has brought fellowship into my life. I have the privilege to be a member, and because of that, I am part of a tradition, culture, and group of like-minded individuals who share the same interests that I have. Together, we get to give back to our community, our fire department, and our union. We are a team, and we can count on each other, and I really enjoy that about our organization. I enjoy when we get to together to brainstorm ideas about different ways to stay active in the community and help mentor the next generation of firefighters. It is a passion that I have that I hope I can continue to do for as long as I can.”
Learn more about the Valley Hispanic Bomberos, including how to become a member.