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Community hero: Winterhaven firefighter honored for valor
As paint cans and gasoline tanks were erupting near him, Carlos Munoz hosed down a mobile home to protect it from a fire in Winterhaven in 2012.
Later the same year, he found himself in a similar situation as he and other Winterhaven volunteer firefighters stood between a brush fire and Quechan tribal housing, fighting off the flames.
In both cases, homes were saved and injuries prevented, and those firefighting efforts helped earn Munoz a Community Heroes award from the American Red Cross.
The award is given out for acts of courage that protect the lives of others. Munoz, a San Luis, Ariz., resident, received the honor from the San Diego-Imperial Counties Chapter of the Red Cross at a recent ceremony in Imperial, Calif.
Apart from his actions during the fires, the honor recognizes Munoz for his efforts to maintain the volunteer fire department at a high level of readiness in 2012, even as numerous mechanical problems beset the department during the year.
“All in all, his performance went above and beyond the call of duty for the fire department,” said Winterhaven Fire Chief Steven Taylor, who along with the Winterhaven Fire Protection District nominated Munoz for the award.
Munoz, a lieutenant with the all-volunteer department, led a three-member crew sent to a fire at Shipp's Auto Salvage yard in March.
“It was a pretty big fire, and I had a limited number of personnel,” said Munoz. “You could see the flames from the station.”
The fire department called for support from other agencies such as the city of Yuma and Rural/Metro fire departments, but the Winterhaven volunteers had to take steps to control the fire until help arrived.
Located on the same lot was a mobile home, said Taylor.
“The fire had come up almost to the back door.”
Fearing that the heat alone could set the mobile home on fire, Munoz began spraying water on it. Meanwhile, flames were already setting off paint cans and gasoline tanks on the same premises, said Taylor.
“There were numerous explosions, and cars (in the salvage yard) were catching on fire. Just the smoke coming off the fire was unreal.”
The mobile home had been occupied for 30 years, Taylor said, although no one was inside at the time of the fire.
With the help of several agencies, firefighters contained the fire to the yard and saved the home, he said. “All that was lost were some cars and a storage shed.”
In the brush fire later that year, 100 acres had been consumed over three days before the flames came dangerously close to a Quechan housing complex.
“We just did our best to keep the fire from spreading to the houses until backup arrived,” said Munoz.
Munoz, a graduate of San Luis High School and the Arizona Western College Fire Academy, has been a volunteer with the Winterhaven Fire Department for two years.
While he and the other Winterhaven firefighters aren't paid, said Taylor, volunteering with the department gives them the satisfaction of serving the community, as well as gaining skills and experience that could land them paid positions with other agencies.
Munoz says he looking at his options, although he does plan to work in some capacity in the firefighting or emergency services profession. In the meantime, he's studying toward a bachelor's degree in fire science and emergency management from Northern Arizona University-Yuma.
“I want to finish my education, that's what I want to do. And then I'll look at what are my options.”