Fire chief aims to lead by example

bbashioum@demo-mo.comMay 2, 2014 

At 34, Mark Lopez’s heart for service is indisputable.

He wears the hats that of a preacher, school administrator and fire chief. He’s also a father to two young children and husband to his wife, Corrie, and works another job full time.

Lopez is a household name in the community of Garden City, where he’s also served on the city’s Board of Aldermen and had a stint as mayor in recent years.

Both in his personal life and in his career, Lopez aims to be a leader in whatever position he is in.

He said his strategy is simple -- lead by example.

“If you want people to do well, know their job, and do their job, and do it, then that’s what you need to do,” Lopez said.

As a 17-year veteran to the Garden City Fire Department, Lopez sees his work as an opportunity to help people when they’re at their weakest.

He’s taken thousand of calls during his tenure and seen a lot of tragedy.

Being first responder, he’s quick to tend aid to an ill or injured person, and nimble to get to the scene of a burning building. He’s even up for saying a prayer over a patient when they ask.

As with others in law enforcement and emergency services, the images of injuries and deaths never leave his mind.

“We do see some things that are unfortunate and sad,” Lopez said.

To this day, Lopez can’t smell diesel fuel without the memories of a horrific crash several years ago when a tractor trailer and a car became entangled -- killing the drivers of both vehicles.

The scene reeked of gasoline as emergency responders had to cut the bodies out of the motors of their vehicles after they became entrapped in the engines.

There are also memories of the sacrifices he’s had to make for the job.

“There have been Christmases that I’ve had to get up and leave and date nights that have been interrupted,” Lopez said.”

But Lopez’s gentle spirit matched with servant-style leadership may be why he was selected to be the department’s fire chief as a young 20-something nine years ago.

When he’s not at the station or on a call, Lopez is wearing other hats in the community of about 1,600 people.

He serves as an administrator at Training Center Christian School and is an associate pastor at New Covenant Fellowship.

With two kids, Mercy and Creed, and a wife at home, and in addition to being in seminary to pursue his ministry aspirations, Lopez surely has enough to keep him busy. He also supports his family with another full-time gig working as a firefighter for the city of Overland Park since 2002. He drives a ladder truck for the department.

With his multitude of responsibilities, it’s Lopez’s desire to keep his faith at the center of it all.

“I don’t know how I would be able to do my job without it,” Lopez said.

And it was the education he received from the Training Center as a student and the example the life that his parents led that taught him to how to be a servant, he said.

“My parents have always been hard working people and my wife’s parents are extremely hard working people, so we grew up in a home of service,” he said.

Lopez believes that leadership is simply how you influence other people.

“Whether we like it or not, Adolf Hitler was an amazing leader,” he said. “The reason he was a good leader was because he had the ability to influence people. It doesn’t make what he did right, but he had the power of leadership. There was something there that drew people to want to follow, listen to him.”

Lopez said he watches carefully at how he influences people.

“I want to lead a life and do things that other people want to follow,” he said. “Hopefully the choices I’ve made through my lifetime will hopefully help somebody else.”

Lopez has had his share of challenges in his career.

He became Garden City’s fire chief in 2005.

“I was very young,” Lopez said. “There’s a lot of people who look at a young guy and are like ‘He just got out of diapers, what does he know about fighting fires?’”

Lopez said he’s been fortunate to rely on a handful of mentors who have years of experience when he has questions.

Lopez took to becoming a firefighter years ago at the recommendation of his father-in-law, Richard Williams, who has served as a volunteer firefighter for more than 30 years in Garden City.

As he has moved into leadership at Garden City, Lopez teaches only one rule to his crew: “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.”

“I think we do a pretty good job of putting that into practice here,” he said. “There is a culture within emergency services that can be very cruel. It’s unfortunate and I am so blessed we don’t have that here in Garden City. I don’t spend my time preaching to these guys, but they know where I stand.”

The longtime Garden City resident doesn’t know, however, if firefighting will always be his only career.

“Preaching, teaching is where my passion is,” said Lopez, who is also currently working on his doctorate in theology and biblical studies.

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