Chago Mendez is a rarity in today's world — not only has he worked for the same company for more than 40 years, he has been a volunteer nearly as long. That volunteerism has led to 38 years with Hesston Fire/EMS.
"They don't come around very often that they are willing to dedicate that much time and effort to staying involved in something that doesn't buy their groceries," said Hesston Fire Chief Russ Buller. "That community service they are hardwired with, they want to keep doing this. It is a loss to the department. He has been part of this organization in so many ways."
After 38 years of service to the citizens of Hesston and Harvey County, safety officer Chago Mendez is retiring from Hesston Fire/EMS.
"I think I have put my time in, and my body is not as young as it used to be," Mendez said. "I have been a public servant since I was 21 years old, working with the police department and then the ambulance and fire department. That is all I have ever done. I care about the community. I care about the people in the community. I feel like it was a calling for me."
He has seen the worst days Hesston has had — a devastating tornado in 1990 and a workplace shooting in 2016. But his worst day, he said, was during a fire in Moundridge to which Hesston responded with mutual aid.
Firefighters found three children dead inside the home when the fire was out.
"It really took a toll on me," Mendez said. "That is the hardest thing that I can remember having to deal with."
At that time he was captain of the fire department, a role he served in for more than 20 years. Saving homes, he said, was the most rewarding part of his work.
Mendez first joined the EMS division in 1981 and served as an EMT until 2000. He joined the fire division in 1982. He was promoted to the rank of captain in 1991 and served in that role until 2012 when he transitioned to the role of safety officer. During his tenure, Mendez was an advocate for advancing technology and training for the department. His legacy will continue through the dozens of firefighters he helped train.
"He has taken a leadership role, gone above and beyond the line firefighter/EMT that many of are and he has done a lot of great things in his tenure," Buller said.
"I had good leadership, good people above me that helped me along the way," Mendez said. "I had good people to work for. That is the bottom line."
In addition, he has served as a reserve officer for the Hesston Police Department and a reserve deputy for the Harvey County Sheriff's Department. He will keep those positions, at least for a while. He plans to keep working at AGCO, his full-time job, through the first of the year.
"Life has been good to me," Mendez said.