After applying for years, José Díaz is now one of three new firefighters for the Sauk Centre Fire Department. Diaz, originally from Puerto Rico, is finally able to help in emergencies where someone needs immediate assistance or a familiar language. At the recommendation of the fire department, Díaz’s appointment was approved by the Sauk Centre City Council June 19 and he started work as a fireman July 2.

“When you’re a human being, the most beautiful thing you can give somebody else is help,” Díaz said. “It’s beautiful when you can help somebody, especially that person in an emergency situation.”

Díaz has wanted to be a firefighter since he was growing up in Puerto Rico. As a young adult, he became a member of a volunteer first responder team, arriving to rescue whomever was in distress and stabilizing them before the ambulance arrived.

Diaz, who moved to Minnesota less than a decade ago, works at Union Dairy, of Sauk Centre. He fertilizes fields and helps in other ways when it is not crop-growing season. During the four years he has been employed with the dairy, he applied for the Sauk Centre Fire Department multiple times.

Díaz’s resolve to work for the fire department got stronger after his father visited from Puerto Rico in 2017. The two were at a hotel in the Twin Cities metro area when Díaz’s father suffered a stroke.

“We called 911, and in three minutes there was a cop at the door,” Díaz said. “In the next 30 seconds, the ambulance and fire department showed up. They took my dad to the stroke center in the cities right away. That was beautiful to me; it was amazing how these people treated my dad.”

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, Díaz brought his entire family – his mother, father, sister and nephews – to Minnesota. Seeing the devastation the hurricane had done to his original home, Díaz’s determination to serve as an emergency responder grew.

Díaz continued filling out applications for the Sauk Centre Fire Department. At last, a space on the fire department became available. Diaz was called for an interview.

“I was kind of nervous,” Díaz said. “It was a dream for me and a goal to be a firefighter.”

Díaz passed the interview and examinations, including a physical test involving challenges relating to firefighting: climbing the firehouse stairs, hammering a valve and carrying a practice dummy. Since his appointment to the fire department July 2, Díaz has been on about seven fire calls.

One special skill Díaz brings to the fire department is his ability to speak English and Spanish. Being bilingual has proven handy on the job.

“On my last call, they got a Hispanic male who crashed, and he didn’t know English,” Díaz said. “The ambulance and the sheriffs tried to talk with him and they couldn’t. I showed up and the ambulance knows me, so they called me right away. I helped the cops and the ambulance, and I came back with the ambulance team. In town, we’ve got a few people who speak Spanish and don’t speak English so well, but everybody’s got problems and situations.”

Díaz’s training is ongoing. His next session is set for winter. Diaz enjoys the training sessions and what they teach him about rescue procedures and equipment.

“The last drill was a water rescue drill,” Díaz said. “That was amazing training. Those guys teach you the best and fastest way to help a person, and that’s interesting to me.”

Díaz lives close to the fire hall, but his job with Union Dairy is about seven miles away. Sometimes that means he is on a later truck or he stays behind to help with cleanup when the crews return. Still, he likes to help out in any way he can, fulfilling his dream of helping people in a time of need.

“I make every call because I feel I have to do it,” Díaz said. “I feel that’s my duty and somebody out there needs help.”