Meet Mesa Fire and Medical Department Recruit Michael Rakofsky

Michael Rakofsky, MFMD Recruit

Michael Rakofsky is a one of 25 new recruits at the Mesa Fire and Medical Department recruit academy. At 43 years old he is married with 3 kids. Prior to becoming a Mesa Fire Recruit, Michael was a reserve firefighter on the west side of the valley, as well as working a job in the construction field. Michael has a passion for Health and Wellness; he spends a lot of his time working out, cooking nutritious meals for his family, riding motocross and participating in Mui Thai Kickboxing. Although Michael thought he was in good shape before the academy he soon realized that the work demands of the academy would improve his fitness and put him in the best shape of his life. Michael’s first goal is to finish the recruit academy but ultimately he says he is training for a 25 plus year career in the fire service. He hopes to retire healthy and spend time with his future grandkids.

“Getting in a routine is first priority to a healthy lifestyle” he says. In Michael’s case he worked out 6 days a week, doing multiple different exercises; lifting weights for strength, running North Mountain for cardio, and even setting up a firefighter skills course in his cul-de-sac. The skills course Michael set up consisted of flipping a 300 lb tire, pulling hose, sledge-hammer hits, carrying sandbags, and dragging a tire to simulate a victim rescue. Michael realized that being healthy is only 30% what you do to your body and 70% what you put in your body. Because of this Michael cooks for himself and his family religiously. His favorite meal is grilled chicken, brown rice and broccoli, but no matter what he is cooking he loves his time in the kitchen.

Recruit Rakofsky has so much enthusiasm about health, exercise, and nutrition that he hopes it will carry over to the fire station. Most new recruits are more scared to cook for a station full of hungry firefighters then they are to run their first call, but Michael is looking forward to this. He is eager to take the lead on cooking and would like to bring his healthy meals into the fire house. Once he gets assigned to a fire house he will continue his path towards a healthy career. “As a new guy coming in, being excited and having a positive attitude, I will be the first one to train and the first one to workout.” Michael’s passion for health and wellness is apparent and his attitude is contagious. It will be exciting to watch Michael transition to the role of firefighter and carry on his healthy lifestyle.

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Your Community, Your Career – Meet Lori Ott


Lori Ott, Engineer, Mesa Fire and Medical Dept.

What aspects of the fire service attracted you to the career?

I was interested in the physical nature of the job, I had been in sports and danced from the age of four all the way through college.  I knew I needed something that required me to stay healthy and strong.  I also like the variety that is associated with the career, you never know what you will be called to do, and we solve every problem imaginable.  I also like the people that I met in the department, and the family nature of the station life.

Do you find that people are surprised to find out that you work for Mesa Fire and Medical Department?

Yes.  What still is funny to see is when I drive up to or away from a location and people are surprised to see a female driving such a big truck.  It is also something a lot of people think they could never do.

What advice would you have for others that are considering a career in the fire service?

Be sure that your immediate family understands what you are getting into.  You are not just going to work, you are spending extended periods of time with another “family”.  This career becomes a life style.  It also takes you away from home for holidays, birthdays, and all sorts of other important time due to the set schedule and 24 hours a day need of the community.

What is your fondest memory or moment thus far in your career?

Probably the best reward I have had was being at a school and having a former trauma patient recognize our crew and thank us for saving him.  He was badly injured and we were unsure he would recover.  I have had the same experience with other patients, but that one stands out because he was young, we were just starting to use a procedure to intubate head injured patients with sedation to keep them from further injury to themselves, and he was in an accident that was not his fault causing his promising future as a football player in college to be derailed.  Rather than being angry he was happy to be alive and very appreciative.

It must be hard at times leaving your family for 24 hour shifts and potentially missing important moments at home while you are on shift, so what makes this job worth that sacrifice?

Though at times it seems that we are under-appreciated an may not be creating some life altering gadget or getting famous, we ARE making a difference in many live throughout a career.  Sometimes these differences are small like helping someone with a water main break or a chirping smoke detector, and sometimes they are big, like the one above.  It is good to know that you have made a difference along the way.  Another aspect of the career that is different than most are the ties that are created with coworkers.  The fire station really is like a second home and the crews do become a second family.  There is a very strong brotherhood among firefighters especially those you work with directly, they do become like your brothers and sisters, and you develop a lot of trust and respect for each other that is very long lasting.

How does being a member of MFMD tie you to this community?

Occasionally we become disillusioned in our career, and like I mentioned before feel under-appreciated.  It seems that about the time youa re feeling that way we drive by a yard or playground of kids and they all wave and look excited to see the fire truck, or have someone walk up to us after a call and say thanks for doing what we do, or bring a plate of cookies to the door of the station.  You realize that event though at times you feel beat up and like you don’t matter, that the people in this community are looking to us to handle whatever comes along and it make them feel safer knowing that they can rely on us to do that.

Also, after a few years of being here you start to see the youngsters you may have taught a school program to testing for the department, or bringing their children to the station for a tour.  You don’t realize how many people you have connected with until you start seeing them in other places or contexts.  You do get to see a whole community of friends and family grow up, and hopefully have through your example and actions made a positive impression on some of the decision they make as adults.

Final thoughts…

This is not a career to consider lightly.  It requires very difficult and sometimes dangerous physical labor.  It requires tolerating sleep deprivation, missing meals, and sometimes helping people that don’t want your help.  It is not for the very old or the very young, and it doesn’t make you rich.  It requires that you never stop learning new procedures or way to improve, and that you never stop being tested.  The recruitment process is just the beginning of what has the potential to be a life altering, but rewarding career.

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Your Community, Your Career – Meet John Leivas

Firefighter for the Mesa Fire and Medical Department

John Leivas, Firefighter for the Mesa Fire and Medical Department

What aspects of the fire service attracted you to the career?

There are many reasons, first the challenge of a demanding job both physical and mental.  I enjoy serving the community, good pay, and benefits.  Every day presents new challenges!

Do you find that people are surprised to find out that you work for the Mesa Fire and Medical Department?  

Not really, when I run into old friends they ask just the opposite.  They want to know if I still work for the fire department.  I started working for the Mesa Fire Department when I was 18 years old while going to H.S.  I became a reserve firefighter and friends would see me in uniform and going on calls.  People knew that was a career that I would be doing for a long time.

What advice would you have for others that are considering a career in the fire service?

It takes a special kind of person to do what we do here.  If you are a quick thinker, self-motivated, flexible, and willing to put other people’s needs before your own then consider becoming a member of the Mesa Fire and Medical Department.

What is the fondest memory or moment thus far in your career?

My best day was my first pediatric save in my career so far.  It was my 4-year-old son.  The kids were swimming in our pool when he slipped out of the PFD that he was wearing.  He was found at the bottom of the pool.  He was rescued out of the water, 9-1-1 was called and I had to start CPR on him.  Before the fire department arrived I was able to get him resuscitated.  He was transported by ambulance to the hospital and was admitted for 12 hours of observation.  This was a good outcome, knowing what to do, and all the training I had kept me calm and focused on what I needed to do.

It must be hard leaving your family for 24-hour shifts and potentially missing important moments at home while on shift, so what makes this job worth that sacrifice?

Balancing work and family can be a challenge.  You work 24 hour shifts and there are times that you miss your child’s first steps, but there will be days that you are at their first grade program and the 9-5 dad’s are missing it.  My family knows that this is a job that I truly love and I have their support.

How does being a member of MFMD tie you to this community?

I have lived in the Mesa area for most of my life.  I loved in a foster home for 5 years here in Mesa.  Giving back to this community came very easy for me.  This job has allowed me to mentor kids and make a difference in their lives.  I have been with the Mesa Fire and Medical Department now for 30 years.  I can’t imagine doing anything else.  Delivering a service that impacts the community is the number one best part of the job.  The best part is you made a difference.  Whether it’s impacting someone’s life forever or simply making someone’s day a little better.  I feel honored to serve and make such a difference.

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Your Community, Your Career – Meet Mike Castillo

Captain with the Mesa Fire and Medical Department

Mike Castillo, Captain

What aspects of the fire service attracted you to the career?

I was in the military before becoming a firefighter, which is where I learned the importance of team, camaraderie and brotherhood.  Becoming a firefighter was a way to continue that feeling of brotherhood and fraternity.

Do you have a family history in the fire service?

Yes, my cousin is a Chief with the Gilbert Fire Department.  He is one of the people who truly inspired me to become a firefighter.

What advice would you have for others that are considering a career in the fire service?

Start talking with your friends and family early.  Your friends and family will ultimately be your support group and will help you through the initial stages of the testing process (when you may hear a lot of “no’s”) they will sustain you through both the good times and the bad times once you get hired.

What is your fondest memory or moment thus far in your career?

I had a few years on the job and ran a very horrible call where a seven-year old girl was stabbed several times by her babysitter.  We treated her and sent her to the hospital.  A few months later the department lined out a time for our crew to go to the hospital and visit her.  She barely remembered us, let alone the incident.  A few months after that her family brought her to the firehouse to see us.  Her demeanor was playful and she had a spark in her eye as she played on the fire trucks that I didn’t expect to see only a few months after this horrific incident.  Fast forward 11 years and I’m still working at the same firehouse where I was that day, and a young girl and her family walks into the firehouse.  It turns out to be the same girl (who is now 18 years old) that I had run on that day.  She and her family came into the firehouse to see if by chance they could meet one of the firefighters that “saved” their daughter that day.  It just so happened that her family came into the firehouse on the day that I was working.  I can barely find words to describe how it felt seeing her after all that time.  I think sometimes, as firefighters, we take for granted just how much of an impact we have on people’s lives.  This is definitely one of the memories that will last with me long after I retire!

It must be hard at times leaving your family for 24 hours and potentially missing important moments at home while you are on shift, so what make the job worth the sacrifice?

Having friends and family that I do that are such an incredible support group is so important.  Not only are they there for me through the good times and the bad, but have at times changed their schedules around to accommodate mine as well.  I can’t stress the importance of this enough.

Final thoughts…

I feel I’m a bit unique in that I was born and raised and grew up in the downtown Mesa area.  I’ve worked at the firehouse in Downtown Mesa for over 15 years, and now I live in the Downtown Mesa area.  It’s not often you get an opportunity to serve the very same community that you grew up in, and now reside in.

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Sustainability Champion – Bill Cawthorne, Mesa Fire and Medical Department

Bill CawthorneFire Inspector Bill Cawthorne visits sites all over the City of Mesa to ensure that their fire safety regulations are all up to code. Some other responsibilities of a Fire Inspector are delivering information on topics such as fire safety, housekeeping, sprinkler systems, and smoke detectors, as well as researching, analyzing, and reporting on topics related to prevention programs.
Not only is Bill making sure we are all safe from fiery mishaps, he has always been personally involved with Earth-friendly practices. One of these being that he and his wife own two ecological modes of transportation: a fully-electric Nissan LEAF and what he now considers a “gas guzzling” Toyota Prius. Before purchasing the LEAF, Bill was in the process of completely overhauling his pickup truck to be electric. During the process however, his wife brilliantly suggested they use the money that would have otherwise been spent on renovations on a new vehicle that was already fully electric. I asked Bill what his favorite features of the LEAF are and said he thought it would be not buying gasoline, but his biggest praise is that it is quiet. He continued by saying, “You can hear birds singing when you go down the road; you can’t get that with a normal car”.

Bill and his LEAF have had an integral part in the implementation of the downtown Mesa charging stations. The city used his LEAF to test the new stations, Mayor Scott Smith even used the car during the grand opening of the stations, and Bill’s wife, Jan, frequently uses them to this day.

Regarding the charging procedure, Bill commented, “We never deplete the 100 mile capacity battery completely. We’ll run around 40 miles, which is about two days of commuting, and then charge it for an hour and half to two hours at night. I’ve never had range anxiety; I can’t go to Tucson without charging in between, but I can go to Glendale, Phoenix, or Scottsdale no problem”. He also added that the bookstore “Bookmans’ has had a free car charger for years”.

Besides his zero and low-emissions vehicles, Bill also generates his own electricity, enough to operate the house and his LEAF, with solar panels at his home, plants edible landscaping, collects about 7,000 gallons of rainwater a year, and he and his wife carpool to work at least 30% of the time. He commented, “I try to make my life as sustainable as possibly, reduce, reuse recycle…it’s been my mantra since 1970”.

Check out some Sustainability Savings Tips to see how your simple actions can lead to a greener future!

Fun Fact:

Bill is quite the Renaissance man. Not only is he a certified pilot and aircraft mechanic, but also a builder of amateur radios, cyclist, hiker, observer of the stars, horseback rider, and he just took up the banjo!

*Article and photo courtesy of Samantha Booher
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Ladder 201A Urban Gardeners


Richard Harless and some of his fellow firefighters stationed at Fire Station 201 have gone above and beyond to participate in the community that they already so dutifully serve. Richard is a Fire Engineer who drives Ladder 201, and whose duties include overseeing the safe and efficient operations of various firefighting apparatuses in response to and at emergency scenes.

Not only are these devoted employees concerned with keeping us safe from fiery matters, they are taking a keen interest in keeping our community healthy by enlisting with the newly opened Mesa Urban Garden (MUG), located at 212 E. 1st Ave., which is just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from their downtown Mesa fire house. The firefighters first heard of the garden when David Crummey, the Operating Director for MUG, and avid participant in the Mesa Leadership Program, did a ride-along with them. Richard explained that they all were talking about MUG and “since many of the guys already had gardens at home, [they] decided it would be a great thing to get involved in”. Richard took on organizing the group for the garden, but they all worked on it together.

In addition to participating at MUG, Richard has been tending his own garden at home for the past few years, which he says gets better and better with each season. When I asked Richard to tell me how he thought his actions were impacting Mesa, he responded with, “Anytime we can have something that brings the community together is a good thing. The more we have community involvement, the more we take pride in our city and how it looks, which brings others into our community.”

He stressed the importance of eating foods that are in season and grown locally to improve individual’s nutrition as well as the community’s overall health. Richard also gave me some insight into the firefighters’ diet, “In an attempt to improve our health we have changed the way we eat to a low carb high fat diet consisting of mainly vegetables and an increased amount of natural fats. This is in line with new medical studies regarding health and nutrition. We are excited to have the Mesa Urban Garden to harvest fresh vegetables from for the majority of our meals at the firehouse”.

Along with tending their garden at MUG, he and others at his station often ride their bikes to and from work and save the kitchen scraps (which accumulate at the station) for composting; both for their garden at MUG and gardens at home.

*Article & photo courtesy of Samantha Booher


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Amanda Piña, Mesa Fire Connector Program

Name:  Amanda Piña

Volunteer program:  Connectors

When did you begin volunteering?  2009

Why did you choose to volunteer?  I chose to volunteer because I love to volunteer and give a helping hand.  I started volunteering in Jr. High and pursued the Connectors later because I wanted to work with the fire department, my ultimate goal is to become a firefighter. 

What volunteer activities have you participated in?  Every shift I’m on I get to go out in our community and impact a family or individual making their day a little better no matter the crisis whether it be from a citizen assist to a house fire.  I have also helped out with CERT training participating as a patient, the Christmas toy drive every year, new Connector training, and special events that cater to the families in the community about the awareness of fire, water, and emergency situations. 

What activities have impacted you?  I would have to say simply…ALL OF THEM!  Every volunteer opportunity sheds a light in someone else’s day and mine.  A little goes a long way, it is such a rewarding feeling helping someone gain a smile and know that everything is going to be o.k.  It makes me humbled and thankful. 

Do you have a most memorable volunteer experience?  It was Father’s Day 2011 and I decided to make waffles that morning a few guys on shift were dads and I invited the guys from the station as well, however the first call of the morning was a drowning and the patient didn’t survive.  That was someone’s daughter and it was heart breaking.  On the way back it was quiet.  When we got back I made the waffles as I was going to and they said, “Thank you, I feel much better.”  It made me feel good that they felt better.  We were able to carry on that day. 

Do you work?  I work full-time for Crescent Crown Distribution as a Lead-Set Merchandiser (Grocery Chain)

Are you a student?  If so, what are you studying?  I am a part-time student in fire science.

Is there anything else you would like to share?  I was recently awarded Service Master 3rd Quarter and Merchandiser of the Year for 2011 with Crescent Crown.  I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for my mom.  Her guidance and strength has made me head strong and heart strong.  Two of the biggest qualities that identify my character.  I have a bit of a funny bone, but it is because I like making people laugh and smile.  I know when I need to be serious and get the job done!  I am an outgoing, hard-working, goal getter, compassionate, competitive, perfectionist who loves life and one day hopes to hold a career in the fire service.

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