Ivan Chavez found out his daughter wanted to become a firefighter during his first Army Reservist deployment to the Horn of Africa in 2003.
“She sent me an email saying she was going to fire college,” he said. “Until that point, I had no idea that was something she wanted to pursue.”
Chavez, who has been a firefighter for 25 years, was not completely surprised. His daughter Jasmine, 19 at the time, had been around the firehouse her entire life and was very athletic.
His reaction: “At least she’s got a plan.”
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And when it came time for his twin sons — who are two years younger than Jasmine — to choose a career path, both decided to keep firefighting in the family.
“As a parent, you want your children to get on track to be successful,” said Chavez, 53. “The fact that they chose to go into the ‘family business’ makes me even more proud.”
Ivan Chavez, who was born in Cuba and moved with his family to the Miami area when he was 3, joined the Marines after graduating from high school in 1981. By November, he was in boot camp.
When he was discharged in May 1989, he had three small children and a wife — his high school sweetheart, whom he married at 18 — and knew he needed to do something to raise his family.
He began doing odd jobs including fixing airplanes, working at a tire store and driving an airport shuttle.
“You name it, I did it,” he said. “It was time to hustle.”
His father-in-law, who was a firefighter for what is now Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, suggested that he go to fire college. He said he took the last $1,200 in their savings to learn the fire business. On Dec. 7, 1992, the city of Miami hired him. About the same time, he decided to get back into military service.
“Right around the time of the Gulf War I got the itch to go back,” he said.
He has spent most of his career with Miami Fire Rescue at Station 9 in Little Haiti. He also worked on the department’s dive, technical rescue and hazardous materials teams.
As a parent, you want your children to get on track to be successful. The fact that they chose to go into the ‘family business’ makes me even more proud.
Ivan Chavez, Miami firefighter
In April 2016, Chavez left for his second reservist deployment — this time to Afghanistan — and returned in February 2017. Upon his return, Miami Fire and Miami Beach Fire threw a surprise reunion for the family.
“It was just an amazing moment,” said Ivan Jr.
All three of his children work at the Miami Beach Fire Department. He said that seeing them work together makes it even sweeter.
“We are a tight-knit family to start with, so to see this is just great,” said dad.
Jasmine, 31, worked for the Hialeah Fire Department for 12 years before she joined Miami Beach in January. Ivan Jr., 29, was with Miami Fire Rescue for four years before joining the Beach. Both are working at Station 4 in North Beach.
Jasmine said she had initially wanted to be a veterinarian but realized she wasn’t a fan of dead animals. After high school, she decided on a firefighting career.
“My dad is the ultimate firefighter in my eyes,” she said.
Christian, also 29, has been with Miami Beach for five years and is studying to become a lieutenant. After graduating from Florida Christian Academy in 2006, he went to Lynn University in Boca Raton to play baseball and earned a degree in criminal justice. In 2011, he went to the fire academy, and a year later was hired by Miami Beach.
He said going into firefighting was a “no-brainer.” Growing up, he said he remembers riding on the firetruck with his dad and feeling like the firehouse was his second home.
Ivan Jr., meanwhile, graduated from Florida International University with a degree in criminal justice. He said departments weren’t hiring, so he started taking classes toward a nursing degree while getting certified to become a firefighter. By 2012, Miami Fire Rescue hired him, and for a short while, he and his dad worked side by side.
The proud father said watching his children grow into “great firefighters has been a privilege.”
“Each generation is responsible for adding to the legacy they’ve been handed,” Ivan Chavez said. “I’ve handed them the baton, and it’s up to them to keep it moving forward.”