In July of 2003, a man crashed his car through a barrier blocking off part of Arizona Avenue for Santa Monica’s bi-weekly farmers market, plowing through the crowd of shoppers and killing 10. Eric Castellanos was working as an Emergency Medical Technician for an ambulance company, and was one of the first responders that day, directing help for the 63 people injured. The California State Assembly later honored him with the Star of Life award for his efforts.
His daughter, 10-year-old Catherine, wasn’t born yet but has heard the story. And it’s one of many reasons she thinks of her dad as a hero.
“My daddy demonstrates heroism by having the integrity to do the right thing,” she wrote in nominating her father to be L.A. Parent’s 2016 Dad Hero. “My daddy helps people without judging them. He also helps them despite the bad things and he faces his fears for a good outcome.”
The Happy Accident
A few years before the tragedy in Santa Monica, while cleaning out an ambulance, Eric pricked his hand on a syringe and was sent to the clinic where he met his wife, Maria. She was working as a medical technician, and gave him a blood test and injection. He gave her his phone number, but it took her a couple of months to call the handsome EMT – who at the time was also working for the Santa Monica Police Department Harbor Patrol unit. “He was working two jobs to get enough money saved up for paramedic school,” Maria says. “Everything he does, he does full throttle.”
The two married and started a family. Eric graduated from the UCLA/Daniel Freeman Paramedic Education Program, and from the fire academy at the top of his class, and now is a paramedic, firefighter and engineer with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) in Riverside County.
The job often requires long hours, especially during wildfire season. Eric has been sent to help fight fires throughout the state, and once was gone for 32 days straight. The schedule can be tough, especially during summer, as he is often tired. “They get called any time during the night,” says Maria. But Eric catnaps while the kids are at school so that he can be awake to spend time with them when they get home.
Sons Nick, 16, and Eric Jr., 7, both play baseball, and Eric often manages to make it to their games. He cheers on son Manny, 19, at cross country and track meets, and sets aside time for Catherine as well. “He likes to take me on father-daughter dates,” Catherine writes. “One of the things we do best is dance together, and we’re rollercoaster buddies, too.”
“He just always managed to make every single one of them feel like they are special,” says Maria, adding that she and Eric also have date night at least once a month. “He’s an outstanding father. He’s a wonderful husband,” she says.
Keeping Family First
Time together as a family is also important at the Castellanos house, and that means dinners together – without electronics. Church has been another favorite family activity, but a recent promotion means Eric needs to be at the firehouse on Sundays. Fortunately, the other members of the crew are also married with children, and the firehouse is welcoming to families. So on Sundays after church, Maria and the kids visit to hang out, and sometimes even barbecue. Eric says that once in awhile he puts the kids to work around the station, doing a bit of housekeeping. Little Eric, who the family calls “Deuce,” even has a set of firefighting gear just like his father’s.
All in all, this hero seems to be enjoying watching his kids grow up. “My favorite part of being a dad,” he says, “is seeing my kids have the same experiences I had as a kid. Every phase of childhood is great.”
A Dad Hero’s Getaway
This year’s Dad Hero getaway is a stay at Kona Kai Resort & Spa (www.resortkonakai.com), located at the tip of Shelter Island in San Diego. Our 2016 Dad Hero and his family will receive:
- A two-night stay at Kona Kai Resort & Spa
- Dinner for four at the resort’s Vessel restaurant
- Complimentary kayak, paddle board and/or bicycle rental
Families will also have use of the resort’s equipment for beachside volleyball, bocce ball and sandcastle building. We wish Eric a happy Father’s Day, and some fun in the sun with his wife and kids.