Vail dispatcher honored with a ’40 under 40′ award from police chiefs’ group
Vail Public Safety Communications Center Dispatcher Fernando Almanza has been selected as one of the International Association of Chiefs of Police prestigious “40 under 40” award winners. The award will be presented to Almanza during the group’s virtual international conference in October.
The annual 40 Under 40 award recognizes 40 law enforcement professionals under the age of 40 from around the world who demonstrate leadership, exemplify commitment to their profession and have a positive impact on their communities.
According to the association, winners are motivated to lead their agencies into the future, and they encourage their colleagues to grow professionally and personally, striving daily to provide best-of-class services that lead to a safer, more inclusive and more peaceful world.
Vail Public Safety Communications Center Director Marc Wentworth was compelled to nominate Almanza for the 40 under 40 award based on his dedication to duty and to the community they serve.
A career of firsts
“Fernando was the first bilingual dispatcher to join the SWAT/SOU team, becoming a Level III Hostage Negotiator for Eagle County,” Wentworth said. “He also joined the Incident Dispatch Team in order to learn the ins and outs of their Mobile Communications Unit.”
Almanza has since been deployed with the Mobile Communications Unit to a variety of incidents and used his Incident Dispatch Team experiences to help reduce stigma and fear during emergencies.
“(Almanza) works selflessly and tirelessly to improve the law enforcement profession, the quality of life of our immigrant community, and has just recently joined Hearts Reign, an organization whose focus is to promote mental health in our non-English community,” Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said. “He has made an immeasurable impact over an exemplary career as a passionate advocate for the county’s extensive Spanish-speaking community.”
After taking a 20-week course with Family Leadership Training Institute, Almanza created a project called “First Responders: Heroes in the Shadows,” an educational program about the process one goes through when experiencing an emergency and the importance of reporting it to the authorities. Since its inception he has taught over 1,100 people across multiple presentations. This project helped earn him the 2019 Colorado Dispatcher of the Year award and was profiled in the Police Executive Research Forum publication.
In addition to his duties as a 911 emergency dispatcher and his work with emergency response teams, Almanza is a certified Spanish translator, a member of the Mountain Youth Coalition, a board member of Communities that Care, a Special Olympics fundraiser, a volunteer of the Eagle County Crisis Hotline and an elected Eagle County School Board Member. To top off these activities, he works with the Bright Future Foundation’s Buddy/Mentor Program.
“(Almanza’s) story is even more impressive when you consider he came from humble beginnings,” Wentworth said. “Originally from northern Mexico, Almanza crossed into New Mexico at the age of 11, fleeing a past of domestic violence in his own family. His will and determination to enrich the lives of others, particularly the vulnerable and underserved, inspire his co-workers and supervisors to work together for a cause greater than themselves and deliver lasting results.”
In Almanza’s words, “It has always been my passion to help people, especially those who believe they do not have a voice. I give special consideration to the LatinX community, where English is the second language of 52% of Eagle County students. I entered into a law enforcement career in order to do the most good for them. In law enforcement, I can promote the equality of opportunity and advocate the values of a diverse community. Growing up in the valley for the last 17 years has given me the tools to understand what my community needs and has led me to find ways to give them exactly the support they require.
“Early in my training, a Hispanic family lost their head of household due to a fall from a building under construction. None of the workers at that location spoke English and were scared to call 911. By the time first responders arrived, it was too late to save his life. I keep that memory in the back of my head every time a community member needs help in a language other than English. We need to all practice the language of compassion if we are to serve a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic population.”
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