When now retired City of Hialeah Fire Department Lieutenant Luis Espinosa attended the International Association of Firefighters convention in 1990, he had no idea that he would soon assumed a new leadership role within a new form of community service in South Florida: creating one of the most successful calendars in the United States to raise funds for an array of local charities.
His experience as a former model and actor in South Florida helped in recruit attractive firefighters to kickstart the project. For many years, he worked to create a philanthropic organization, searched for professional photographers who wanted to work pro bono, as well as graphic designers, publishers, and volunteers willing to do the same. In 1993, he had already reached his goal: to create awareness of important community problems through the sale of the calendars annually.
To date, the non-profit organization The South Florida Firefighters Calendar has collected more than $240,000 benefiting charitable organizations. This year, the calendar will sponsor: Here’s Help, Safehaven for Newborns and Friends Forever Pet Rescue.
Jasmine Chavez, who is featured in one of the photographs, has been surrounded by firemen since she was a little girl.
She’s one of the few women in the field and has worked for the City of Hialeah Fire Department for the past 10 years. The vocation to be a firefighter is a tradition in Chavez’s family dating back to her grandfather, Douglas Jewett, who was a Metro Dade firefighter.
“My father, Ivan Chavez, collaborates with the City of Miami Fire Department,” she said. “He’s been a role model for me and for my brothers, and not just as a firefighter but as a father and human being.”
Along with her father and twin brothers, Jasmine represents the month of October on the calendar.
“My brother Ivan works for the City of Miami Fire Department and Christian works for the City of Miami Beach Fire Department,” she said. “Almost all my family came from Cuba, but I was born in Hawaii when my dad served time in the infantry of the Marine Corps and was stationed there.”
Jasmine said all that’s done to benefit the community is wonderful and explains that calendar is an example of this.
“I would like for more people to get involved because I think that we all have to work together to make this a better world.”
Axel Font, also a firefighter, applied to participate in the 2015 calendar after a friend suggested he could pose for the camera alongside his 11-year-old son, Xael.
“I think it’s good for the boy to have different opportunities to interact with people and have fun,” Font said. “Like when we sign autographs on purchased calendars … but the most important thing is to teach him to donate his time to help non-profit organizations and to help people who depend on his efforts for their livelihoods.”
Font decided to become a firefighter 10 years ago because according to him, there’s nothing that could fulfill him more than saving a life or help those in need. He believes the calendar project is a wonderful way to help several charities while at the same time enjoying quality time with his son.
Font, who was born in Puerto Rico to Cuban parents, is also a sculptor and thanks his coworkers at the fire station for supporting his art.
“The boss at our department has recognized me for the sculptors I’ve done for my station, Station 40 of Miami-Dade County.
The fireman and sculptor made a North American flag with pieces of old hoses, a red and white fire hydrant and incorporated pieces of blue metal with white stars. Both pieces were selected to appear in the calendar with him. Because of this, Font represents the month of July since it’s when Independence Day is celebrated in the U.S.
Gaby Allen, 13, encouraged her father, Brian, to participate in the calendar and raise funds for the needy. Both of them were chosen to represent the month of December.
“She has a big heart,” said Allen, who has been a firefighter and paramedic for 18 years and the lieutenant of the Hialeah Fire Department for the past 12 years.
“I became a firefighter following in the footsteps of my older brother who is also a City of Hialeah Fire Department lieutenant,” he said. “I love what I do because I enjoy helping people and I think that my daughter used to think of my work as what she saw firefighters do in cartoons but now she knows that we handle a lot of 911 calls including many traumatic situations.”
Allen, who was born and raised in Hialeah married Maritza, a Cuban who came to Miami during the Mariel boatlift and is currently trying to learn Spanish.
The calendar can be bought online at: www.firefighterscalendar.com