Peter Ortega, 46, has spent half of his life as a Clifton volunteer fireman. For 15 of those years he has served as its fire chief.
He is now stepping down from that position.
So what is in store for the future?
“We aren’t rebuilding. We’re reloading,” he said of the 17-member volunteer fire department. “We’re strong and I know we’re becoming even stronger.”
Ortega informed the Clifton Town Council of his resignation as fire chief at its April 8 meeting. He was commended by council members for his service and dedication in serving the town.
He will remain a firefighter but now plans to spend more time with his family. He and wife JoAnn, who have been married for 26 years, have a growing family. They have four children and six grandchildren.
“It’s time for me to be a papa. I’m really looking forward to spending more time with our family,” Ortega said. Son Omar is also a Clifton firefighter and another son, Daniel, who is retuning to Clifton from Colorado, will also be joining the department.
Peter already has his hands full with his full-time job. He is a boiler shop supervisor with the Freeport-McMoran copper mine in Morenci.
His service has at times been quite challenging but well worth the effort, he said. Every call, especially those that come late at night, can certainly be a challenge.
“When that beeper goes off you never know what you’re going into. Being called out late at night can certainly mean meeting the unexpected. You never know what you’re going to encounter.”
He paused. Then sighed and said, “When you go out your door it could be the last time you see your loved ones because many times you just don’t know what you’re getting into.”
Firefighters at times battle big fires that put them in danger. In the event of a vehicle crash they are called upon to extract people from mangled vehicles. Other times they help police with traffic control. They also are involved in community activities such as feeding the impoverished. They also focus on sponsoring events for children.
The Clifton department does not hesitate to work with the Morenci or Duncan fire departments, Ortega said. He said being firefighters involves team efforts and a brotherhood of sorts.
“We all have the same goal. To serve the public and keep our communities safe.”
Peter and JoAnn are both Clifton natives. His parents, Ismael and Francis Ortega, were born and raised in Clifton. They both recently died, Francis in 20017 and Ismael, known mostly as “Smiley” in March 2020. He was a Korean War veteran. The Ortegas were well-known and highly respected in the Clifton community.
Peter said it was from them he learned to respect people and love his community.
“I’ve met a lot of great people and made a lot of good friends over the years,” he said. Someone who stands out in his memory is former Clifton Fire Chief John Castaneda. “In my heart he’s my chief. He will always be my chief.”
Clifton Town Manager Rudy Perez said he is advertising the open position internally. Ortega’s last day is May 4.