Chief Rodriguez answers his final call—retirement
Jun 28, 2018 11:43AM
● By Shaun Delliskave
Chief Gil Rodriguez (center) serves on the American Red Cross Heroes Awareness Board. (Photo courtesy Murray City Fire Department)
By Shaun Delliskavefirstname.lastname@example.org
It was just supposed to be a part-time gig for the South High School teacher and coach. But 36 years after discovering his passion as a volunteer firefighter for Murray City, Fire Chief Gil Rodriguez responded to his last call on June 14 – his retirement party.
“It is rewarding when you show up on someone’s worst day and hopefully can bring back to (them) some kind of normalcy,” said Rodriguez.
The Los Angeles native fell in love with Utah when he attended Southern Utah University, graduating with a degree in secondary education.
“Although I loved being a teacher and a coach, I had a passion for being a firefighter at a very young age,” he said. “When I did move back (to Utah), I started testing and was lucky enough to end up at Murray as a part-time firefighter.”
Within two years, Rodriguez was working full-time, moving up the ranks from engineer all the way to chief of the department in 2005.
“I have had some great times in the fire service,” he said. “This kind of work affords you many experiences; it also can give you some memorable experiences that are very tough in nature.”
Rodriguez responded to the 1987 explosion that leveled the landmark Murray business Don Blair Studio. A drunk driver smashed her car into a natural gas meter, triggering a blast that leveled the building, injured seven, and blew out the windows of 35 nearby businesses.
“We were very lucky that no one lost their lives that night,” Rodriguez said.
The chief does keep it all in perspective. “Although it is a great and noble profession, you are always very close to tragedy—you are a part of the toughest day in people’s lives, whether it be them losing everything in a fire, personal injury or illness for them, or being witness to them losing a loved one,” he said. “That can be very tough, especially when you have tried hard and couldn’t make things right.”
Rodriguez has also served on numerous committees as a representative, not only of the fire service but various community boards as well. He served as president of the Western Fire Chiefs Association, president of Greater Salt Lake Chief Officers Association and president of the Salt Lake Valley Fire Alliance. He has chaired several committees and continues to serve on the American Red Cross Heroes Awareness Board.
“Being the fire chief, you are responsible for not only the protection of the community but for the people who work for you and with you,” Rodriguez said. “Firefighters don’t hire on for the money, but with that being said, it is a competitive business. It is tough when neighboring departments are doing well and we are just short; although to me our firefighters are young, but they are still responsible adults with families and financial responsibilities. Hopefully that will change soon.”
He describes the fire department as a family and recalls the names of Bob Young, Kelly Farrington, Andy Walkingshaw and Glenae Turley, who all passed away during their time with the department, though not due to fire-related injuries.
“As devastating as these events were, it showed the caring, strength and class of this organization,” he said. “These individuals were honored and will never be forgotten. We are still close with their families today; they will always be a part of who we are.”
Rodriguez will be renowned for expanding the department to include ambulance transport services and for working with the legislature to improve the working conditions of firefighters. One of his most meaningful accomplishments has been the establishment of the western region golf tournament for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, serving as chairman for the past 10 years and raising more than $200,000 for the foundation.
As for retirement plans, Rodriguez intends to travel with his wife and also spruce up his yard to compete with the neighbors. Looking back at his time in the fire department, Rodriguez reflects, “This profession is not a job; it is a career. It is a calling of providing a service to the community. It won’t make you rich and many times can be frustrating and heartbreaking, but if you do it for the right reasons, you will never work a day.”