City of Alton Cross Training Firefighters as Officers

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ALTON – The city of Alton is taking a unique approach to emergency response. To maximize their resources, they're training some of their firefighters as police officers and vice versa. 

Nicolas Zepeda is a fire station engineer, arson investigator and a police officer with the Alton Police Department.  

"It's unique because of the cross-training program the city provides," he tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS.  

Zepeda is one of six firefighters in Alton's department certified as a police officer. Three other police officers are certified as firefighters.  

He says each department helps the other for, at least, 24 hours every month.

"Being a smaller city – for us, we sometimes have our officers sometimes tied up at calls, doing what they do, same thing with fire calls,” said Zepeda.

Eighteen police officers and 17 firefighters serve about 16,800 people in Alton.

In 2014, Alton Fire Chief Javier Garcia suggested the city pull its resources to do the best with the staff in place.

Garcia tells us he convinced the police chief and city commission to make it happen.

"It's to help each other out as far as manpower,” he said.

Now the city claims to be among the most versatile team of first responders in the Rio Grande Valley. Garcia said he learned the cross-training method early on the job.

"I started my career in Dallas, Dallas Fort Worth airport," said Garcia. “That's where I became certified fire and police."

Zepeda said he’s grateful the model is playing out here in the Valley. He tells us the added training brings an added sense of confidence in the field.

"If an officer’s tied up in a call, I'll be able to provide that kind of authority or enforcement of the law at a fire call, as a firefighter and police officer," said Zepeda.

Alton residents like the approach. Leeann Del Bosque is a recent high school graduate and lives with her sister in Alton.

"There could be something going on on the other side of the town and there's not going to be enough people to help this side," said Del Bosque. "So knowing there are officers actually trained at that department, it actually helps because we could get the help that we need."

Del Bosque says she can breathe a little easier knowing the two departments work hand in hand.

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