Last year the Public Education Office of the Omaha Fire Department (OFD) did a study to identify the areas where they could improve the efficiency of their services.
Timothy McCaw, Battalion Chief at the OFD, mentioned how, thanks to that analysis, “it was found that the language barrier between us and the Latino community is making it impossible for our message to be properly delivered.” It was then that under the guidance of OFD Captain Melanie Bates, a member of Mayor Jean Stothert’s team, more funds were secured to create the Bilingual Public Education Specialist position.
That responsibility fell on Mexican radio announcer Sergio Robles, someone authorities have known for many years and who, thanks to his many years of experience at radio station Lobo 97.7 FM, showcased his outstanding work as a community leader.
“Sergio is very passionate about serving the community, and people always seek him for advice,” said McCaw, adding that having Robles in the OFD allowed them to overcome two very important challenges: communicate the agency’s information in Spanish and having a significant presence in relevant Latino events.
“I have deep roots in South Omaha,” said McCaw, who was born and raised there, and who thanks to his efforts managed to win a college football scholarship. He later graduated as a physical education teacher and became a coach at South High School.
It was until the year 2000 that, after “fulfilling a childhood dream” McCaw enrolled in the OFD, convinced that thanks to education he would be able to save many lives.
McCaw acknowledged that a great part of the strength of the Public Education Office at the OFD lies with how, on top of having Robles in the team, the group includes “people who have a true calling for helping the community,” as is the case of Public Education Manager Verelle Gordon and Captain David Mann.
“I feel very lucky and blessed,” said Robles when talking about his new job as Public Education Specialist at the OFD, where he began working during the first half of 2016, allowing him to learn more about the outstanding work of Omaha firefighters.
“For me they are heroes,” he said, adding that firefighters follow a strict physical training program to be able to stay in shape and work in all the schedules that make it possible for the OFD staff to be available 24/7.
“Most of the time we take their work for granted,” said Robles as be shared that fire station No. 31 (4702 S. 25th Street), is loved by the immigrant families who have witnessed firsthand the dedication of its members under the leadership of Captain Andy Johnson and Captain Antonio Lara, who is also bilingual.
Speaking of the language, Robles made it clear that all reading material distributed is available in Spanish, as is the case for the brochure for the campaign “Los detectores de humo salvan vidas” (Smoke detectors save lives).
This campaign’s goal is that residents in the city who don’t have a smoke detector at home get one from the available agencies by filling out a simple form that asks for their name, home address, phone number and the most convenient time of the day for a firefighter to visit for an inspection of their home. “This way we can install one at no cost thanks to the First Responders Foundation, American Red Cross, and the Omaha Fire Department.”
It is estimated that around two-thirds of the fires in homes happen at night, which is why the OFD is concerned with bringing a smoke detector into every home to reduce deaths.
“Fires only want to do one thing, and that is to continue to grow,” emphasized Robles, who as spokesperson for the OFD works on some very interesting talks where he highlights things such as having fire drills at home so that the whole family can practice what needs to be done in case of a fire, making sure that in case of an emergency there are two exits on all rooms as well as an escape route, not to mention they need to establish a place where they can later meet. Senior citizen, housewives and all people who visit the offices of the Mexican consulate have received this and more information from Robles, whose greatest satisfaction, comes from being able to speak at places such as Spring Lake Elementary School, “where Latino children who are learning to speak English are happy to hear you speak to them in their own language.”
Omaha Fire Department