LPM Staff

Everyday Heroism

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A typical day for Carlos Pisaño is anything but ordinary.

As a City of Phoenix Fire Department firefighter paramedic, he may find himself in a Arizona Highway Patrol helicopter plucking an injured hiker from the steep slope of a  mountain; administering free immunizations to hundreds of children; or delivering life-saving treatment to an injured accident victim on the side of the street.

“I wear a lot of hats,” says Pisaño, who has served with the Phoenix Fire Department for 26 of his 52 years. “I’ve been very blessed to be able to do a lot of things, and be allowed to help people in many different ways.”

Pisaño is a third-generation Mexican American, with ancestral ties to Chihuahua on his father’s side and to Sonora in Mexico on his mother’s side. He grew up hearing his father speak Spanish while at home, but speaking primarily English himself.

Yet even his limited Spanish became crucial one night in 1987. A truck with a dozen  people in the pick-up bed had crashed, scattered the passengers along a stretch of the road. When Carlos arrived, the scene was one of chaos, with the injured moaning or screaming for help – in Spanish. None of the squads of police and paramedics that showed up spoke fluent Spanish, preventing them from assessing the extent of injuries.

“It’s really hard to take care of somebody speaking Spanish if you don’t know Spanish,” Pisaño says. He took on the job of impromptu translator to speed help to the injured, but became aware of the need for Spanish-speakers in the Fire Department.

“When you don’t have Spanish as your primary language, and you’re trying to translate for some many people, that was all I could do. It was hard, and an eye-opening experience for me.”

As Phoenix’s Spanish-speaking population grew, so did the number of cases requiring Spanish speaking firefighters and paramedics.

In 2000, the Phoenix Fire Department made it a goal to train up to 50 percent of their personnel in Spanish for emergency situations. The department initiated exchange programs with Mexico to provide Spanish immersion for employees. Designated fire stations have firefighter Spanish instructors, and only Spanish is spoken on-duty.

“The firehouse program been a tremendous help for my fellow firefighters, because in 15 minutes they could be out on the street using that Spanish in an emergency,” Pisaño says.

The career paramedic also participates in the Fire Department’s immunization program. Paramedics have provided more than 150,000 shots that are required for school or day over the past decade, Pisaño says.

The shots program also doubles as training for bio-terrorism or medical emergency scenarios, he adds. In a civic emergency, first responders will be called to give shots against toxic chemicals terrorists may spread, or during a epidemic of influenza that also can kill large numbers of people.

Pisaño says he was influenced toward a first-responder career by two of his brothers-in-laws who were in the fire department.

“I’ve always been a physical kind of guy who always liked to help people,” he says. “I feel privileged that I have a career where I’ve been allowed to serve people, and to do the things I am passionate about.”

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