Fire Chief with his son and daughter standing in front of a fire truck

How Manuel Almaguer Started His Journey at FRCC

After Manuel “Manny” Almaguer graduated from Pomona High School in Arvada and decided he wasn’t quite ready for college, his parents gave him a mandate. “They told me if I wasn’t in school, I needed to get a job to continue living with them,” says Manny.

When driving around one day that summer, he got a flat tire right in front of Wheat Ridge Regional Center, one of three Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) facilities that serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with intensive needs.

Manny went inside, asked to use the phone and noticed a “Now Hiring” sign. “I asked to apply, not knowing anything about the business except for its name!” he says.

He filled out the application on the spot and “practically begged” for an interview. A few things went Manny’s way, and he was hired as an entry-level psychiatric technician—with the contingency that he become a Licensed Psychiatric Technician.

On to a Nursing Degree

As luck would have it, Manny fell into a career that suited his strengths and fit his caring personality. When Wheat Ridge Regional Center opened a new unit, the director approached him about becoming a nurse—with the perk of tuition reimbursement from the state.

“It seemed like a good opportunity, so I started researching nursing schools nearby,” Manny says. Several coworkers recommended Front Range Community College’s nursing program, and Manny liked what he learned.

He enrolled and started working toward the practical nursing certificate first, then the associate degree in nursing, finishing them in 1995 and 1996, respectively.   

“My FRCC classes were challenging, but when I took the state boards to become a licensed practical nurse and a registered nurse, I felt very confident and prepared,” Manny says.

In 1996, he became a psychiatric RN at another CDHS facility, the Colorado Mental Health Hospital in Fort Logan for residents with acute mental illnesses and court-ordered inpatient restoration treatment.

From Psychiatric Nurse to Firefighter

In late 1999, Manny tagged along with a friend who was applying to work at the Denver Fire Department—totally on a whim. “The next thing I knew, I was invited to sit for a written exam that determined who the department would interview,” he says.

Soon, that group of about 4,500 people was narrowed down to 800 and ranked from 1 to 800. Only the top 40 people were invited to complete that year’s fire academy training. Manny was ranked eighth in his class.

Moving Up the Ladder

He started his career at the Denver Fire Department as a firefighter at one its 38 stations. “Like when I got the jobs as a psychiatric technician and psychiatric nurse, this felt like fate,” he says.

After seven years as a firefighter, he moved into administration and has served as lieutenant, captain, assistant chief and division chief of fire prevention.

In 2020, Manny returned to his passion: working in the community. “I believe I accomplished many great things as one of the top leaders of Denver Fire, but during the last season of my career, I wanted to get back into the firehouse,” Manny says.

Today, he is the assistant chief in the operations division, managing all fire stations in one of Denver Fire’s seven districts.

A Journey of Service

Serving his community has taken on new meaning for Manny during his time with the Denver Fire Department. Following the loss of his friend, a Denver Fire Department captain who died by suicide in 2013, Manny made it his mission to advocate for mental health resources and support for first responders.

The following year, he helped spearhead a suicide prevention and total wellness training program for every new recruit class to the Denver Fire Department. He’s presented that work to groups around the country, including the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs at the Pentagon, the Obama Administration and the US Surgeon General—both at the White House. Since 2021, Manny has served on the board of United Suicide Survivors International.  

The Best Foundation for His Career

Many firefighters have worked as Emergency Medical Technicians, but fewer are former nurses with a background like Manny’s. He says his experience has given him a greater awareness of the needs of all kinds of different people in the community.

“I feel like I found my calling,” Manny says. “As a leader in the fire department, I am part of making decisions that impact people in the communities in my district.”

“I live here, and I’m involved with organizations like Homies Unidos and Su Teatro Cultural Arts Center that serve this area. That community connection has always been important to me, and I feel lucky to do this job.”

Even 23 years after his FRCC graduation, Manny still uses skills he developed in nursing school. “Front Range gave me a solid foundation,” he says.

“I learned about time management, setting goals and prioritizing. I truly believe Front Range was a catalyst for my career progression in the fire service.”

“It’s been a great journey, and I feel I’m where I need to be in life.”

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