HARTFORD — - When Edward Casares Jr. rode his 10-speed bicycle to the Hartford Fire Department's training facility on Jennings Road in 1980, two thoughts came to mind.
"The first was, 'What am I doing here?'" Casares, 51, said Friday as he recalled the day he joined the department. "The second was, 'Someday I'm going to be chief.'"
Casares' long-held dream came true Friday as he was named the 36th chief of the Hartford Fire Department. His promotion will take effect in April when Chief Charles A. Teale's retirement takes effect.
Pictures: Casares To Succeed Teale As Hartford Fire Chief
Casares, a 28-year veteran of the department, has been fire marshal since 2006. He was the first Hispanic to be named a fire marshal in Hartford, city officials said.
"A new era begins today," Mayor Eddie A. Perez said.
Casares, who moved to Hartford from Chicago when he was 10, said he was inspired to become a firefighter by the death in 1979 of Julio Lozado, a 12-year-old boy who was trapped in a collapsed building. Neighbors at the scene tried to tell firefighters what was happening, but none of the firefighters spoke Spanish. Lozado's death resulted in a departmental push to hire more Spanish-speaking firefighters.
Teale, who recommended Casares as his successor, said Friday that Casares has the skills to move the department forward.
"He's fair. He won't make decisions based on skin color and he has the technical expertise," Teale said. "He will steer the department in a positive direction."
Teale said Casares also brings compassion and a solid background in securing grants for the department.
"He covers the bases exceptionally well," Teale said.
Casares has also overcome adversity.
In 1989, while receiving psychiatric treatment at the Institute of Living in Hartford, he told a therapist that he would kill Mayor Carrie Saxon Perry and Fire Chief John B. Stewart Jr. Casares left the hospital and was later picked up by police outside his home and returned to the institute. He was not charged with any crime.
"It was a very challenging time in my life," Casares said Friday. He said he relied on the support of the department, friends and family to cope.
"I think it made me a better person," he said.
Teale, who overcame the stigma of being a high school dropout, said he would be disappointed and angry if anyone were to use the 20-year-old incident to derail Casares' appointment.
"He has been of great service," Teale said.
Casares said it's too soon to talk about his goals for the department, but added that he was eager to begin working with Teale on the transition.
"My plan is to shadow Chief Teale and learn from the best," Casares said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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