By Steve Huffman
Gabe Narcia’s fellow firefighters at Locke Fire Department were holding a farewell luncheon for him last week when the station’s alarm sounded.
Without hesitating, Narcia stepped away from his meal, donned his firefighting gear and climbed into one of the station’s trucks.
Then off they roared, just another day at the office as far as Narcia was concerned.
He and his fellow firefighters returned to the station an hour or so later and Narcia took up right where he left off ó namely, having a good time with just about everything life throws at him.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” Narcia said of the six months or so he’s spent as a member of the Locke Fire Department.
“They’ve taught me a lot. They’re a lot of fun.”
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Rusty Alexander, the chief at Locke, said he remembers the day in January when Narcia marched (almost literally) in and asked about joining the department.
“I gave him an application,” Alexander said. “I remember thinking he was just a little fella ó only about 6-foot-5 or so.”
Narcia impressed Alexander when they met and nothing about that initial impression has changed in the months that have followed.
“He’s a character,” Alexander said. “There’s nothing about him that’s not to like.”
In his short stint at Locke, Narcia has garnered some impressive awards. He was selected as the department’s Rookie of the Year and has also received a CPR Save for playing an intricate role in saving a life.
Narcia’s most prestigious award may have been a Medal of Gallantry, bestowed upon him after he helped a fellow firefighter to safety after he’d broken through the floor of a house while battling a blaze.
“He’s going to be missed very much,” said Capt. Bradley McKnight, the firefighter that Narcia helped save from that burning house.
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In a few months, Narcia, 22, is going to be thousands of miles from Rowan County, serving as an Army medic in Iraq.
A native of a small town near Orlando, Fla., Narcia volunteered to go to Iraq.
“I joined the service to be in the middle of the action,” he said. “I figured this would be a good opportunity.”
Asked if friends and family members have questioned his sanity concerning volunteering for Iraq, Narcia laughed and said they had. On more than one occasion.
“A lot of people say, ‘You’re crazy,’ ” he admitted.
But Narcia said he looks at the mission as a challenge. And life can’t have too many challenges, he said.
“I like having fun,” Narcia said. “This whole thing is exciting to me.”
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Narcia has already spent almost three years in the military as an Army medic.
He said that after high school, he tried college for about a year-and-a-half, but at the time wasn’t especially interested in his studies.
So he enlisted in the Army, agreeing to serve three years active duty and another five as a member of the National Guard reserves.
Narcia spent much of his active duty time at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga., and last June ó after his active-duty stint was through ó came to Salisbury where he was to undergo additional training as part of a medical detachment team at the Hefner VA Medical Center.
Narcia said the training in which he’s involved at the VA is a monthly undertaking. Over the past year, he’s also earned an associate degree in science at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
Not content with all that, he’s picked up his Firefighting I and II certification as sponsored by RCCC and the Salisbury Fire Department.
When he graduated last week with that firefighting certification, Narcia was named co-winner of the Top Gun award, given to the student who completes the training with the highest grade point average.
Back in January, when Narcia approached the firefighters at Locke about joining their staff, he was certified as an Emergency Medical Technician, but had little training as a firefighter.
Narcia had to complete 100 hours of such instruction before being allowed inside a burning structure.
“He’s picked up on everything extremely quickly,” said Alexander, the chief at Locke. “He’s the kind of guy you wish you had five more exactly like.”
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But Narcia will be leaving the Locke family shortly.
He was initially ordered to Fort Bragg last week, commanded to leave the same night he received his associate degree from RCCC.
That’s why Narcia was invited to have a farewell luncheon earlier that day with his fellow Locke firefighters.
But at the last minute, the Army changed Narcia’s plans.
He’s now been ordered to an Army base in Texas the first week of July for about three months of training before his deployment to Iraq.
Narcia said that training includes instruction on Iraq’s environment and culture. He’ll also receive numerous inoculations prior to his deployment.
Before heading overseas, Narcia will also receive training at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin. Somewhere along the way he’ll be introduced to and work with members of the Army’s 171st Engineers, the unit with whom he’ll be serving.
The engineers will be building bridges and doing any number of other tasks in the war-torn nation of Iraq.
The 171st is a National Guard unit.
Narcia said he expects to be in Iraq anywhere from 12 to 15 months. He said he realizes that medics are often targeted by enemy insurgents, but said he’d promised his mother he’d keep his head as low as possible.
“I told her that what’s going to happen is going to happen,” Narcia said of the conversation he had with his mother. “Still, she’d probably prefer I didn’t go.”
Narcia said he’s enjoyed his stint in Rowan County and plans to return to the area once his Army enlistment is complete. He said he plans to eventually apply for a job with either the Salisbury of Charlotte fire departments.
If asked to do so, members of the Locke Fire Department will surely be happy to provide Narcia an outstanding recommendation.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or email@example.com.
By Steve Huffman