Photo by Hubble Ray Smith.
It’s the school kids that Oscar Lopez will miss the most when he takes a new job Jan. 29 as chief director of emergency services for the Hualapai Nation.
He’s worked as fire prevention specialist at Kingman Fire Department for the last couple of years, visiting schools to teach students about fire awareness and dangers.
During Fire Prevention Month in October, Lopez was in the schools almost daily with KFD’s public education programs.
“The biggest thing I’ll miss is going out and dealing with the kids when I go out to the schools and teach kids fire and life safety,” Lopez said in his office packed with fire department memorabilia and souvenirs from his 15 years of involvement with Kingman Little League.
Lopez, 48, is a dedicated Kingman native, a 1987 graduate of Kingman High School, who started his career as a KFD volunteer firefighter and was hired full-time by Hualapai Valley Fire District (now part of Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District) in 1994, working his way to battalion chief of operations.
He continued as a volunteer with KFD and transitioned to an on-call paid firefighter, then joined Kingman Police Department as a code enforcement officer in 2007.
He was hired part-time as crash rescue firefighter at Kingman Airport Authority, and in 2015 got the job as KFD fire prevention officer.
“My path to emergency services was never my goal,” Lopez said. “At the age of 18, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.”
He was driving around town when he witnessed a huge fire and felt the urgency of the situation. That’s when he became a volunteer firefighter.
Lopez remembers celebrating the Fourth of July at Centennial Park with his family in 1991 when the sky above Kingman Industrial Park started blackening with thick smoke. Carris Reels, a manufacturer of wooden spools for wire and cable, was on fire.
The industrial park was served at the time by the Hualapai Valley Fire District, which requested mutual assistance from KFD.
“We responded with one engine and I literally sat on the hose line for 10 or 12 hours, to defense a fire,” Lopez recalls. “It was just the adrenaline, from the time we got dispatched to the time we came home.”
Lopez said he looks forward to the next chapter of his life.
“I’ve always been the type of person who wants to move up. I don’t want to be stagnant,” he said.
He hopes to bring leadership to the Hualapai Nation Emergency Services and help the tribal community with “anything and everything” it wants and needs.
“It takes a strong leader, somebody that’s willing to sacrifice their time to make sure everything’s done right, make sure it’s headline-worthy,” Lopez said. “If it’s going to be a headline on the front page of the Daily Miner, you want it to be good.”
Lopez said he owes KFD Fire Chief Jake Rhoades and Assistant Fire Chief Keith Eaton for refining his leadership skills over the last six months to a year, teaching him how to deal with staff and customers and heads of other departments in the city, county and state.
As emergency services director at Hualapai Nation, Lopez will supervise a staff of about 60 budgeted personnel, including fire, emergency medical services, dispatch and animal control.
He’ll be the boss of his 19-year-old son, Quentin, who followed his father’s path and works as a firefighter for the Hualapai Nation. Lopez also has an adult daughter, Dominie Greene, with two grandchildren, and another son, Tristen, 15.
Short and stocky, Lopez played football at Kingman High, and like most Little League baseball volunteers, he got roped in when he was signing up his kids. In Little League vernacular, it’s called “voluntold,” he said.
He’s been assistant coach, manager, board member and president of Kingman Little League for the past eight years. He’ll continue in that role after taking the Hualapai Nation job, commuting to Peach Springs from his Kingman home.
“I’ve got a strong board this year,” the president said. “After I talked to my family and Chief Eaton and Chief Rhoades (about the job), I talked to the Little League board, and they all stepped up. Their role is going to be important because they’re doing all the behind-the-scenes work, a lot of paperwork and registration.
“That’s all Little League is until they start playing baseball, then it’s playing baseball and there’s no worries to deal with. Once in a while you get a dad or parent or grandparent, and you have to tell them, ‘It’s not for you. It’s for the kids.’”
Lopez preaches a fun philosophy for the game, with a few fundamental requirements. No. 1 is education. If baseball interferes with school, you’re out. Second is family functions. They take priority over games.
From there, it’s all about having fun, from T-ball through the more competitive leagues.