WATSONVILLE — Rudy Lopez, Sr. has officially taken the position of chief of the Watsonville Fire Department, nearly three months after he was appointed to the interim position.
Lopez, whose son Rudy Lopez Jr. is a Watsonville Police detective, has been a firefighter since 1990, a career that began when he went to a recruiting event when he was 29. He called it his life’s calling.
His time in the department has included serving in nearly every possible capacity, including Division Chief and Fire Marshall. But he said the top spot has taken some getting used to.
“I never started out to be a chief,” he said. “However, it’s my call to duty.”
Lopez called his ascension to the position a “humbling experience,” and said his leadership is contingent on the respect he garners from his staff.
“You earn that trust, and you can lose that trust in a breath,” he said. “It’s not about me, but it starts with me.”
Lopez takes the helm during the impending sunsetting of Measure G, the half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2014, which has funded six firefighters and two new engines, each costing about $535,000. A $1.4 million tiller truck is currently being built.
City leaders are mulling whether to bring that issue back to voters, a task that falls largely on the shoulders of officials such as Lopez, who are tasked with convincing a tax-wary public that the money is being used wisely.
Lopez said he is considering restructuring his command staff, and wants to expand the department’s fire cadet program.
“We don’t need many changes,” he said. “We need continued progress.”