Livingston firefighter's involvement rewarded

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comApril 8, 2013 

— Involved, caring, calm, level-headed and ambitious.

These are some of the qualities attributed to Juan Aguilar, who juggles the roles of child protector, volunteer firefighter, coach and community volunteer.

The 30-year-old Livingston resident was just recognized as one of Merced County's firefighters of the year by the American Legion. His bosses and relatives praise him highly for the things he regularly does.

Aguilar is part of the emergency response team with Stanislaus County's Child Protective Services agency and a Livingston Volunteer Fire Company member. He coaches youth soccer, basketball, baseball and flag football with Livingston's recreation department and plays co-ed softball.

"I'm pretty busy, but I like it that way," Aguilar said. "The fire service has always fascinated me and I just wanted to give back to the community."

Aguilar responds to about 25 fire calls a month, sometimes more, including calls for medical assistance, vehicle accidents, structure fires, gunshot wounds and vegetation fires. He said risk is a part of the job he is prepared to face.

"I do get excited when the pager goes off," Aguilar said, "but I am pretty calm most all the time. You have other firefighters with you and they have your back. My support system of family and other firefighters helps out."

David Bates, chief of the Livingston fire volunteers, said Aguilar has been a tremendous asset to the fire company, which has 18 volunteers.

"One of his finest attributes is that he's an all-around nice guy," Bates said. "He's very involved with youth activities. He is very easygoing, level-headed and laid back and not at all excitable. He is a quick learner and has learned his job well."

Aguilar joined the department's hazardous materials team after training in December. He hopes to get his emergency medical technician certification later this year and become a driver-operator with the fire department.

When getting a report of an emergency such as people trapped in a burning building, a firefighter's instincts kick in, Aguilar said.

"For a split second you think you might not come back," Aguilar said, "but you know what you're there for and what you are going to do. If I'm available, I will be there to help out, whatever the situation is."

Since his 6-year-old son Isaiah is involved in sports, Aguilar relishes the coaching duties and accompanying him to San Francisco Giants and Oakland Raiders games.

Aguilar concedes there is considerable curiosity among friends and co-workers about what he does as a firefighter. He said it takes a special person to be a firefighter but admits the job can exact a physical and mental toll.

Being singled out as firefighter of the year by his peers was a humbling experience, Aguilar said.

"It's nice to be recognized; it was awesome," Aguilar said. "I'm still kind of in shock but appreciate it a lot. Firefighters aren't always recognized as they should be for their day-to-day activities on the front lines. They all deserve it."

Aguilar's sister, Leticia Aguilar, praises her brother.

"He's a really neat guy, a wonderful father, a great brother and a son," she said. "We're very proud of him for everything he has accomplished. (Becoming a firefighter) was his dream since he was a kid."

A 2000 Livingston High School graduate, Aguilar got a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice in 2005 from California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock. That was followed by a master's degree in social work in 2010, also from CSUS. He has worked for CPS in Modesto for almost eight years.

Aguilar's supervisor, LeAnne Wesner, said Aguilar's skills serve him well on the job and as a firefighter.

"He's a great guy to work with," Wesner said. "He is always calm, has a good attitude and I enjoy working with him."

Aguilar said his role with CPS is challenging, especially when he sees youngsters who are in harmful situations, but that it's rewarding at the same time.

Aguilar's brother, Alfredo, lauds him.

"He's a very dedicated individual and hard-working," he said. "I'm very proud of him. He keeps himself busy and he's always on the go."

Aguilar hopes to establish a nonprofit organization later this year in Livingston. He said there is a lack of first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation classes in the city and he hopes that applying for grants and raising money will change that.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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