Meet the Firefighter: Luis Aguilar

GLADES COUNTY — Florida Forest Service State Wildland Firefighter Luis Aguilar says that although he was born in 1957, he is still not sure what he wants to be when he grows up, but until he figures it out, he is thoroughly enjoying his career as a firefighter. Mr. Aguilar was born in Mexico, Jacona Michoan to be exact, but was raised in a multitude of places including — Mexico, Southern California, Los Angelos, Pasadena, the desert in California and Riverside, Calif. He has three sisters and graduated from Mount San Jacinto High School in San Jacinto, Calif., in 1976. His favorite thing about high school was the short school day. His school hours were from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and his least favorite thing was that his graduating class was so small, with only 32 seniors.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Melissa Yunas
Luis Aguilar is here as Buckets the Clown with Smokey Bear and a young fan at the Martin County Air Show several years ago.

When he moved from Pasadena to the desert, he only needed three credits so he only attended morning classes at the high school he explained and then he attended the local junior college in the afternoon for an offset lithography class. He attended Mount San Jacinto Junior College and then the State University of New York where he majored in police science and liberal arts. He earned an A.S. in police science and a B.A. in liberal arts. The liberal arts degree was for the Navy, he explained, and the police science degree was because he originally planned to be a police officer. His favorite college memories were in typing class. He jokingly described it as SO many women. Although he was the first in his family to obtain a degree, he said, “My son is in the Navy and working on his master’s. It warms my heart. A good education is a stepping stone to many opportunities.”

Before joining the Forest Service, Mr. Aguilar first worked as a bagger in a liquor store, as a department store clerk and then joined the Navy. He has been with the Forest Service for 19 years, and although he has been based at the Palmdale forestry site, he has also fought forest fires throughout the area including, Okeechobee, Highlands, Hendry, Charlotte, DeSoto and Hardee counties.

Luis will retire in 15 months with twenty years of service as a state wildland firefighter with the Florida Forest Service.

He is looking forward to the next adventure. “It is a young man’s job,” explains Luis. “On a bad fire, you do get an adrenaline rush, if you go the wrong way and the weather changes, you could die. I’ve had two occasions that came close. I am not an adrenaline junkie, I am ever aware of the present dangers. I’m going to miss this job because it was never the same routine, the people change, no fire is ever the same, the years/seasons are different and priorities change.”

In the Navy, Luis specialized in six different jobs (photographer, engineer working with steam pumps and steam turbines, welder/plumber, metal fabricator, recruiter and instructor). “As an instructor and recruiter, I enjoyed working with the public and showcasing my passion for the Navy,” Luis explains. “I liked explaining what opportunities the Navy could provide to new enlistees.

Working with the Florida Forest Service, Luis’s passion for working with the public once again comes through with his pursuit of fire prevention outreach. He is the only fire prevention clown in the Okeechobee district. “As Buckets the Clown, I can take a serious topic and use the clown as a vessel to speak to children about fire prevention,” explains Luis. “I like to think that through the years my outreach efforts have made at least a small difference in Glades County, children caused wildfires are at an all-time low (0 percent for the past five years). My hope is to teach children the importance that fire is a tool, not a toy, so children grow up to be a responsible adult with fire.”

In order to make outreach presentations memorable, the Florida Forest Service provides training and costumes to willing personnel. In the Navy, Luis took a tremendous amount of good quality education, yet his most empowering introspection into his own psyche was the clown class. “I learned about the different types of clowns and the feelings they evoke,” explains Luis. “Many people don’t hold clowns in high esteem and are even scared of them, so I chose to be a silly and amusing Auguste Clown that is less threatening. I settled on a pink wig because it is a great conversational ice breaker for moms and kids, it’s also just a pink wig for men. I truly believe that the safest way to deal with a fire is to prevent it through education, and I hope young people see my passion in my message and a positive outcome.”

Melissa Yunas, wildfire mitigation specialist, contributed to this article.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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