3News exclusive: CLE Fire Chief Angelo Calvillo talks retirement

Calvillo spoke with Lydia Esparra, 3News’ Lydia Esparra, to reflect on his 33-year tenure as the city’s first Latino fire chief.

Worsted Mills, July 4, 1993 was the site of one the worst triple-four-alarm fires ever recorded in Cleveland history. Angelo Calvillo (a young firefighter) was on the scene. The massive blaze lasted for days. 

Nearly thirty years later, this picture still sits on Calvillo’s desk.

“For me, it’s the best job ever,”In a recent interview with 3News, he stated the following. “I am so proud and so honored that I was able to lead this division for almost seven years.”

Calvillo has announced his retirement from this division. The official announcement will be made on Thursday.

“I’ve got to go,”He said it to us. “If I could, I’d probably stay until I’m 65, and I’m sure the critics probably wouldn’t like that.”

Calvillo is passionate and you must go back to the beginning to understand why. Calvillo was born in Cleveland’s west on 58th Street and Lorain but grew up in Old Brooklyn. His grandparents were both from Mexico and Italy. His mother was born in Sicily and his father was born in Mexico, but he is originally from Brownsville, Texas.

Calvillo was the sixth of six children. In the early photographs, Calvillo is seen eating enchiladas followed by making tortillas.

“We grew up poor,”He recalled, “but I knew that, for me, there was no choice but to succeed in life.”

His mother was an Italian-Mexican, but it was his father who shaped his strong Latino roots.

“He taught me to work hard,”He explained. “He taught me, too, that, ‘Hey, you know what? You have to carry your own weight, and there’s not going to be any help, so do what you have to do to preserver and be the best.'”

Calvillo’s future could be fueled by another firefighter.

“Mr. Page, he was my mentor,” Calvillo said. “Mr. Frank Page was actually a firefighter and he owned Honey Hut Ice Cream, and he believed in me.”

“After high school, he actually came over to my parents’ house and said, ‘I think Angelo would be a great firefighter.'”

Calvillo would eventually join the department in 1989, and eventually become battalion chief. Page also praised Calvillo.

“He told my brother John … ‘Listen your brother’s going to be the next fire chief,'” Calvillo remembered. “‘Mark my words,’ and it happened, and he passed away.”

Calvillo, although only the ninth chief in Cleveland’s history, is the first Latino.

“I had to work twice as hard,” Calvillo said. “As I moved up the ranks—being Latino, the first Hispanic fire chief—they kind of look at you sideways and say ‘Who’s this guy think he is?'”

He’s been the chief of his own division, which has meant he has had to put out fires. This has not been well-liked by the rank and file. Calvillo was accused of having mismanaged the department, and putting public safety at risk. In 2019, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 93 chapter passed a resolution of no confidence against him. Two years later, Calvillo was defeated by the union in a second no confidence vote. The IAFF unanimously censured him.

Calvillo continues to be unaffected despite public displays of contempt.

“I think the silent majority know that I’m very capable of running this division,”He stated. “I’m a reformist. I reformed this division to be better because I expect excellence in myself.”

He has always placed safety first on his priority list.

“That’s what keeps me up at nights: Mak[ing] sure my firefighters are protected,”He said. “I’m in that arena fighting the good fight, and if you come into that arena with me and join me to go ahead and provide the best, then I’ll accept that feedback, right? But if you’re not doing it and you’re just pointing [fingers] and you’re in the cheap seats, I don’t want to hear it.”

Calvillo, who was made chief in 2011, has made important changes.

“I run a division now that’s No. 1 as far as ISO [International Organization for Standardization] 1,” he declared. “We’re working on an international accreditation where very few departments in the nation have both those standards, those gold standards.”

He also spent $1.8million dollars on state of the art, self-contained breathing devices with their own facepieces.

“Could you imagine if we didn’t have that during this the COVID pandemic?”He asked.

Structure fires are less common and response times are quicker. Seconds matter in life-threatening situations.

“I’ve put them in a good position as far as our staffing, getting our equipment, our training,”Calvillo spoke highly of the department and noted that the budget was balanced. “five years in a row from 2016.”

Calvillo is a man with great faith. He and Maria have three kids and Vincent, his son, is a firefighter. I asked him a final question: Does Vincent regret anything?

“I regret that I didn’t have more time,”He answered, with tears in the eyes, “But I’ve got to get on with my life.”

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