Chief Novoa looks back on his career at DFD

Chief Mario Novoa as a rookie, left, and as a chief, right.

Since Douglas Fire Chief Mario Novoa officially retired in January, he has been discovering what it’s like to reconnect with his family and friends without keeping an ear on the radio, ready to respond to a fire call.

Chief Novoa proudly served his community and surrounding area for over 30-years, beginning his career with Douglas Fire Department on May 27, 1988.

In 1991 with the help of some devoted DFD staff members, Novoa instilled the Douglas Fire CPR program under the American Heart Association. It was a win-win for Douglas because the overall chances of survival in the community from a cardiac event were greatly increased due to more people being trained in CPR.

Novoa and his staff worked tirelessly to improve the program and, in 1994, the Douglas Fire CPR program became an American Heart Association Nationally recognized program and is the longest standing community training program to date at the DFD.

Novoa was one of the original nine Nationally Certified Emergency Paramedics for the City of Douglas and was the first paramedic taking a medical call and administering medications and was the first paramedic to run on a cardiac arrest patient, utilizing the skills he learned resulting in saving the patient’s life.

Reflecting on many emergency incidents throughout his career, Novoa says the DOT plastics fire on Ninth Street in April 1992 was one of the most traumatic, almost losing a fellow firefighter in that fire. He still remembers escaping injury and death with his fellow firefighter and vowing that if he ever made chief, he would make sure to obtain a ladder truck for Douglas and limit the dangers that our local firefighters face.

During a fire on 16th Street and F Avenue in 1994, Novoa was not so lucky and suffered an accident resulting in injuries that kept him out of work for over nine months recovering. Novoa still remembers when he was contacted by City Hall who told him, due to his injuries, he would not be able to come back to work, and may have to be deemed as, “disabled.”

He adds he remembers telling them “no” and that he was determined to come back. He underwent two surgeries and extensive physical therapy for most of 1995 and even had to retest for his position to verify that he was both physically and mentally able to perform his duties. He came back to work later that summer and to this day he still struggles with some physical limitations, but he says he is happy to be alive, enjoying his family and life every day.

Because of his dedication to patient care and teamwork, Novoa received the City of Douglas Fire Department Firefighter of the year in 1995 and again in 1996.

In 1998 Novoa was chosen as an associate instructor for the Emergency Medical Course at Cochise College, a position he held until 2016. Due to the DFD work schedule, Firefighter Manny Ayala and Captain Johnny Pedrego aided teaching our local youth these skills thereby preparing them for future employment in the fire and emergency services sectors. In 2010 Chief Novoa obtained the Cochise College Affiliate Faculty Star Award.

In May of 2003, Novoa was selected as interim fire chief making it official in February 2004. He immediately started conversations with the Arizona representative of Med-Trans. / AZ Life Line Air Medical Corporation, working tirelessly to bring the much-needed Air Ambulance service to Douglas.

In March 2005 Douglas’ first and only based medical helicopter was a reality. This program has been very successful and is still in operation serving our entire region.

Also in 2005, Novoa implemented the Douglas sector of the Cochise County Hazardous Materials Response Team. All members of DFD had to comply with the basic requirements of the First Responder Operations course and many went on to complete their Hazardous Material Technician Certification. Douglas Fire joined both Sierra Vista Fire and Fry Fire as the Cochise County HAZ MAT response team.

After becoming Chief, Novoa spent his first five years asking for a ladder truck. In 2012 his vision became a reality and Douglas purchased its first ladder truck.

In 2011, a deep freeze hit Douglas while City Manager Curtis Shook and Human Resources Director Ana Urquijo were both out of town. Novoa took charge of operations and, working with city crews, maintained stability and brought back all functions and services to normal levels. Novoa also states even though they had some very rough moments and events on that day, the teamwork provided by all City staff, gave more confidence to our community in respect to our workforce capabilities.

Novoa also states that in 2012 with the tireless help of his staff and many other city divisions, Douglas obtained an Insurance Service Office Fire Protection Class of 4/4X which was the highest rating of any fire department in Cochise County at that time. This designation allowed Douglas residents to qualify for better homeowner’s insurance rates and demonstrated the commitment of our City services to Public Safety.

Novoa also remembers one of the most trying times of his career was when our local hospital, closed its doors in 2014. Anticipating this possible closure, Novoa and his staff shifted gears and handled the situation admirably. With the support of our Medical Base Hospital, Tucson Medical Center, the DFD served Douglas in a new capacity. DFD first responders and paramedics became a clinic, quick care providers, and emergency room. Even though there were local clinics, the DFD went into overdrive mode every evening, proving to our community that they were there for them.

In July 2015, Chief Novoa received an honor that placed Douglas in the international spotlight. Appointed by the U.S. EPA Region 9 field offices in San Francisco and San Diego, he was named the Co-Chair for Border 20/20 representing the United States with his co-chair being the Director of Emergency Management for the State of Sonora, Mexico. This program creates an international alliance between the fire departments on both sides of the border to assist each other when mitigating fire and hazardous situations, protecting citizens of both nations. Chief Novoa’s responsibilities covered the area from Douglas to the Pacific Ocean.

As an active member of the community, Novoa has served and represented Douglas in many levels throughout his career championing events such as Douglas Relay for life; DFD Food, Jacket and Toy Drive; and Douglas Historical Society locally.

He served as American Heart Association Basic Life Support Chair, Southern AZ; Cochise County Haz-Mat Chief; Cochise County Emergency Medical Services Chair; and in August of 2016 Novoa made a presentation on the City of Douglas at the National Fire Academy / FEMA Emergency Management Institute in Emmestburg, Maryland.

Novoa has also received numerous accolade such as the Congressional Nomination Award for First Responder from Congresswoman Martha McSally and Appreciation awards from the U.S. Secret Service / Tucson Resident Office, the U.S. Border Patrol / Douglas Station, and from one of his favorite groups, Douglas Turning Point

The retired chief credits his lifelong accomplishments to his wife Judith who has always supported him in his career and his children, Nathan, who is currently a firefighter himself, and Haylee who is studying to become an RN.

He also credits his upbringing and his brothers and sisters as well as all relatives who believed in him; and the DFD family who took him in, trained him, gave him wings and supported him throughout his career. He says he was able to meet and develop friendships with and had the honor to work with many great people in Douglas, Cochise County, the state of Arizona, nationally and internationally.

“I’m a much better person today than I was yesterday, and I want the youth of Douglas to have the same opportunities that I had,” Novoa said. “I will continue to pay it forward.”

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