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Charlotte Fire Department names first Latino battalion chief

juan pablo soto and kids .jpg
Kayla Young
/
WFAE/La Noticia
Juan Pablo Soto hugs his children after his pinning ceremony as Charlotte's first Latino battalion chief.

The Charlotte Fire Department recently named a new battalion chief. The achievement was 20 years in the making for Juan Pablo Soto, the first Latino firefighter in Charlotte to reach this level of leadership.

After his pinning ceremony, Soto expressed mixed feelings.

“There’s pride but also a little bit of sadness, in the sense that I shouldn’t be the first,” he said.

Less than 1% of Charlotte’s firefighters are Latino, according to the fire department. There have been moments during Soto’s firefighting career where he has been the only Spanish-speaking responder at the scene of an accident.

In crisis situations, he knows that speaking a common language is important — and that Charlotte needs more bilingual firefighters like himself.

juan pablo soto pinning.jpg
Kayla Young
/
WFAE/La Noticia
Charlotte Fire Chief Reginald Johnson, left, pins Juan Pablo Soto at battalion chief.

Twenty years ago, Soto moved to the United States from Guatemala. He wanted to join the military, like his father, but he got recruited for the fire service instead.

“I met a firefighter that worked with me,” he said. “I used to clean tables. He worked in the same place and said, 'man, you should try for the fire department.'”


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Now, as battalion chief, he wants to set an example for the community.

“I want to learn this job. I want to learn it really well. I want to become a good chief and become a good leader in that aspect,” Soto said.

His promotion represented a step towards achieving greater diversity in the department," said Fire Chief Reginald Johnson.

“This is just another example of moving forward with that diversity and inclusiveness,” Johnson said. “It lets other people know and the Latino community know that you can come and be a firefighter here and that you can progress through the ranks here as well.”

Soto’s mother, Silvia Ladd, and other family members traveled from Guatemala to witness the ceremony. She said she wasn’t surprised to see her son’s accomplishment.

Every goal he’s made for himself, he’s been able to achieve, Ladd said, adding that Soto is on a path to accomplish even greater things.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.