Back in his days at Mount San Antonio Junior College, Reuben Chan wanted to be an architect. But he loved working outside, and balked at the idea of being stuck behind a desk all day.
One afternoon on campus, he came across a booth with information about the fire service. He signed up for a few classes on the spot, eventually took them all, and over the next few years trained to become a firefighter. Since 2000, he has served as a sworn member of the Los Angeles Fire Department, working as a firefighter at Fire Station 85 in Harbor City and Station 64 in Watts, and a peer training instructor at Drill Tower 40.
What sets Chan apart from the length of his service, however, is his clear and purposeful dedication to mentoring, teaching, and inspiring other firefighters — those who serve already as well as those those who dream of doing so one day.
“As a young man, I got a lot of guidance from people around me who helped me get focused on doing something positive,” Chan says. That experience inspired him to give back, and he does: No matter where he’s working, he’s always actively involved with LAFD recruitment, serving as a mentor to many up-and-coming firefighters as they learn the ropes.
Chan is a certified CPAT and Biddle Instructor, meaning he trains and tests aspiring firefighters for their physical agility examinations. He has also taught ladder instruction and flashover conditions training, the latter consisting of how to deal with live fire. Outside of the LAFD, Chan has spent ten years as an instructor at the Rio Hondo Fire Academy; in the last seven, he has trained approximately 350-500 aspiring firefighters.
Since 2010, Chan has been stationed at Station 38 located in Los Angeles’ Wilmington neighborhood, where he acts as the youth cadet post advisor. He prides himself on having personally trained approximately 300 young men and young women between the ages of 14 and 21 to become firefighters and upstanding citizens in their communities. He’s not one to boast, but many of the Cadets who once were his protégés have gone on to become LAFD firefighters, LAPD officers, and members of the US armed services.
As much as Chan loves working with these youth, the most challenging aspect of his job requires him to spend time away from his own children — his nine-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son. He dedicates his free hours to spending time with them, as a father and a public servant whose career not only took him outdoors, but into a role as a mentor to the next generation of first responders.
Ultimately, Chan does this work because he loves seeing others “making it in the fire service like I did.” He says he’s proud of those who succeed in such a competitive field, “and of those who progress to firefighter, engineer, and beyond.”