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For New Assistant Fire Marshal, It’s Out of Retirement and Back to Public Safety

September 29, 2023

By Chris Becker

For John Garcia, who recently joined the University of Houston as Assistant Fire Marshal for the Sugar Land and Katy instructional sites, retirement after 40 years with the Houston Fire Department just didn’t stick.

“It is nice,” said Garcia of retirement. “But I enjoy keeping busy, and I like challenges.” UH is now the beneficiary of Garcia’s extensive experience in educating the public on fire prevention and safety.

Born in Houston, Garcia grew up the small, historic community of Denver Harbor. As an active kid, he welcomed both academic and physical challenges, and enjoyed playing basketball and baseball. One fateful day, while walking home from school, Garcia’s witnessed a fire truck and firemen in action, and was impressed by the bravery of the firefighters and how much they cared for their community.

A Hispanic man smiling in a formal fire marshal uniform.

“It caught my attention,” said Garcia of that life changing experience. He joined the Houston Fire Department in 1981 at age 20, and served in several divisions, including Operations, EMS, Fire Prevention, Fire Training Academy, Public Education, Internal Affairs and Special Operations. In 1991, he received his first promotion to Engineer followed by Paramedic, Fire Inspector, Captain, Senior Inspector, and Chief Inspector. He holds several state certifications including Master Certified Firefighter, Master Fire Inspector and Fire Instructor I and II. He has an associate degree in Fire Technology from Houston Community College, a bachelor’s degree in emergency management from University of Houston-Downtown, and an executive master’s degree in public administration from Texas Southern University.

Garcia began his duties on UH’s main campus this year. During his training, he was assigned to carry out building inspections of dormitories, classrooms, and laboratories to ensure the faculties were in compliance with the International Fire Code. He also conducted fire drills for the day cares and dorms and was on call for emergencies, including the smell of smoke or a gas leak.

“We are the first responders on campus,” says Garcia, “along with the Police Department and in some cases, the Environmental Health and Safety team.” In Sugar Land and Katy Garcia’s responsibilities are the same.

Some fire hazards particular to a campus’ administrative offices include space heaters and extension cords used as a sole source of power. Utility closets and other rooms designated for water heaters or air conditioning units are often mistakenly used as storage for things like paint, which can ignite quickly. The UH Fire Marshal’s Office are available to advise where to safely store such items, and inspect an existing building or renovation of construction site. UH students, faculty and staff can request general fire safety and fire extinguisher training using an online form on the UH Fire & Life Safety webpage, and soon CPR and automatic electrical defibrillator training will be added to the existing fire prevention curriculum.

Garcia’s long-term goal is to find more ways to provide the UH community with information they may be unaware of regarding fire prevention and safety.

“The challenge is going to be getting information to the students,” says Garcia. “With their schedules and academic work, it’s a challenge to get the word out. We have to educate on what is safe and what is not.”

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