Many in the community considered former volunteer firefighter José R. Perez to be the anchor of the Mission Volunteer Firefighters for 39 years, Fire Chief Rene Lopez Jr. said.
On June 30, the city of Mission held a ceremony to rename Slabaugh Avenue after Perez, who passed away two years ago at the age of 73. He was still on active duty at the time.
“He was the kind of person who, no matter when you called him, he showed up,” Lopez said. “Of course, in his later years, we didn’t want him to fight any fires, because of the strenuous activity. So he was dispatching a lot.”
Lopez also talked about how dedicated Perez was to his work.
“He’d come in the middle of the night, work twelve-hour shifts,” Lopez said. “When it was hurricane season he’d work three days straight, so he was very active in that sense. And of course he’d help us with policies and procedures, and making sure we did things right. He never said no.”
Perez had already been working with the volunteer firefighters for two years when the chief first started with the department in 1979. Lopez described his and Perez’s first meeting, they responded to a house call while on duty.
“They had told me to move one of the firetrucks,” Lopez said. “And I ran into him. In the 70’s, the volunteers would take their personal vehicles to the fire scene, and I backed up into his truck.”
Lopez recalls that being the moment he first got to know Perez well, and that he was very understanding and forgiving about the whole situation.
“I offered to pay for it, and he said ‘Ah, don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it,’ even after insisting,” Lopez said. “He (was always endearing), he was basically the same age as my dad.”
Lopez calls Perez a source of inspiration to the department, and mentioned how well-spoken the man was and how good the advice he gave was for the team. He said the street sign would mean a lot to Perez because it runs right by both the Mission Fire Department and the Catholic War Veterans, who Perez was also very involved with.
“There’s a legacy here, we’ve had other generations, and he’s one generation that’s passed,” Lopez said. “It’s to remind people that there’s not just us right now, there’s been several generations in the past who have made this department what we are right now. Because of them, including José Perez, we are where we’re at right now.”