Captain Chip Cervantes began his journey to become a firefighter as a teenager, when he joined the LA County Fire Department’s Cadet Program — what has since been named the Explorer Program.
Created for young men and women from ages 14 to 20, the Cadet Program teaches them to work side by side with members of the fire department; as cadets, they participate in trainings, meetings, and occasional ride-alongs. But besides helping them learn about fire service, the program’s main goal — both then and now — is to instill a sense of responsibility for their neighborhood through ongoing community-related activities.
At 16, Cervantes joined the Cadets in earnest. At the time, he was looking for camaraderie, but he got something else as well: a passion for fire service. After serving as a cadet, Cervantes joined the U.S. Navy, where he spent four years and participated in the Navy’s firefighting program. Back home, he volunteered with the Riverside Fire Department for three years until 2004, when he was hired by the LAFD.
After just nine months at LAFD Station 63 in Venice, (then) Firefighter Cervantes initiated his own Cadet Program as a way to give back to the community that had helped him find his own passion to become a first responder.
Today, he’s a mentor to the kind of teen he once was. Cervantes believes the cadet experience is much more than learning how to fight fires: “We talk about relationships, give advice about cars, teach them how to speak to their parents and teachers,” he says. Spending time at the station provides these young men and women the tools to succeed in the fire service and beyond, should they choose to take a different career path.
Now a husband, a father of three, and a Captain in the LAFD, Cervantes is certain he wouldn’t be where he is today without those important initiating experiences. “I’m a simple guy,” he grins, joking about his “baseball family” and proud of his participation in the Fire Hogs, the LAFD’s motorcycle club. Still, as an active member of the LAFD, it’s likely that Cervantes’ life — and his responsibilities to impressionable young people — is anything but simple.