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Shelley Fire Department pays respects to a great fireman, public servant, and friend

SHELLEY: Manuel Peña, a 35-year-plus fireman veteran, was buried today at Shelley Hillcrest Cemetery after receiving full honors from the Shelley-Firth Fire District.

Manuel Peña was no ordinary man. “He was one of the most amazing people you’d ever meet,” Fire Chief of the Shelley-Firth Fire District Randy Adams said. “His heart was just huge. He just wanted to serve everyone in the community.”

Manuel was a friend to everyone he met.

“He told the best jokes ever. The guy would do anything for anybody. When it comes to Spud Day, he was all over it,” Bubba Rickers, a fellow fireman, said. “Hey, Bubba, I got 80,000 tootsie rolls. He would go get money from various businesses to get a pile of candy for Spud Day to throw to the children.”

He was always dedicated to the community, serving the fire department by setting up eggs for the Easter Egg Hunt or being the Santa Claus at the annual City Chili Cookoff.

 “Back in the day, the fire and police radios were tied together. The police or the Quick Response Unit would call Manuel to interpret for them. Even if it was the middle of the night, Manuel got up and went to interpret for them,” Adams said.

Ed Harlo, a fellow fireman, said, “Manuel was a great friend.  He visited often on Sundays. He was often in church clothes, and I assumed he was ditching church.  He was so good to my family.  He loved to tease my kids.  When they were little, he would say, “Smile if you have a boyfriend/girlfriend.”  They would sit there and contort their faces, trying not to smile. Despite having his own great family, he was a big part of our family.  He will always be one of my best friends of all time.  I was lucky to have had him as a friend.”

Manuel’s sense of humor endeared people to him and helped calm tense situations.

Adams told a story of the first night he attended a fire meeting. “I was standing between the trucks, and Manuel came back with this coarse look on his face. He poked me hard on the chest, knocking me back a few steps, and he growled and said, “You know why they don’t let Mexicans on the fire department?” I didn’t know the guy or know how to answer the question. But I saw he had a shirt with Basic American and Manuel on it. So I said no, Manuel, I don’t know why. And he said cuz they don’t know the difference between Hose A and Hose B. And then, this great big smile came over his face, and we’ve been best friends ever since.

According to many of his fireman friends, Manuel was calm during crises.

“Not only did he translate Spanish, but you could just see a calmness when Manuel arrived and started talking to people in Spanish,” Harlo said.

Adams remembers we had some real destructive fire, and the owners would be standing there all distraught as we fought the fire. Manuel would walk around the corner, look at them, and say, “You could at least have bought some hot dogs and marshmallows.” And I would go, Manuel! And you know what? They would sit there for a minute, not knowing what to say. And a big smile would come across their face, and he’d start visiting with them for a minute. With all that frustration, pain, and guilt they were feeling that day, he would bring them down to a level where they would start to lighten up their mood.

Manuel was a big fireman at heart. His fellow crew members said he was the first to the firehouse when the tone went off. Even though critically diabetic, Manuel would work as hard as anyone on the team.

“In the late nineties, Manuel and I worked at Pillsbury and were dispatched to a scene of a prisoner transport van that rolled in the median of I-15 with injuries and was on fire.  We ran to the old fire station from both ends of the plant and started toward I-15.  We saw a black plume of smoke from a mile away and were informed of severe injuries,” Harlo said. “We started with just the two of us (Randy Adams also arrived a few minutes later). I worked on the driver, who was in a coma for several days.  The van was engulfed, and it was a huge problem.  Manuel had to operate the fire truck, pull the hose, and put the fire out himself (usually, this is a team effort). Randy came along and was able to help a prisoner who was handcuffed in the van but was freed when a bar came loose during the accident.”

 “Manuel was a big, burly dude,” Adam said. “He could take a 2 ½ inch connected hose with 100 pounds of pressure behind it and fight fire himself.”

Harlo remembers the fire dept was working on a house fire.  Most personnel were attacking the fire from one area.  I (stupidly) started into the house from a different side with one other fireman.  It was so smoke-filled that we could only advance using a thermal imager.  After working in a way, the floor above gave away on the opposite end of the room.  It hinged down, slamming us into a tight area in the shape of a triangle. Before I could turn myself around, I was getting pulled out from the back of my gear.  Manuel just ran in and dragged me out. It was bad enough that the hose was stuck while I got out.  Manuel was always ready to jump in and do anything.

Our community has lost a great friend and willing servant. Emmanuel Peña was 68 years old when he passed away. He was buried today, September 15, at Shelley Hillcrest Cemetery.

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