WINTER PARK, Fla. – You could say Winter Park Firefighter-Paramedic Alfredo Escalera Jr. is a little bit of an adrenaline junkie.
Born in Puerto Rico, Escalera moved to Casselberry with his mother when he was a small child.
Later, he followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a boxer. His father, also named Alfredo Escalera, was a professional boxer with 70 bouts between 1970 and 1983.
“He was a Super Featherweight World Champion from 1975 to 1978. So boxing was something that I grew up with, whenever I would visit him back in Puerto Rico. Boxing has kind of always been in my life,” Escalera said.
Escalera himself turned pro in 2005, with 24 bouts until his last fight in 2013.
“I finished my record at 19-4-1. I made it as high as number 15 in the world,” Escalera said. “I fought for two titles. One was an NABO Cruiserweight title, and one was an NABO heavyweight title. I lost both of those, unfortunately. But it was it was a good run. I had a lot of fun. I got to travel the world, met a lot of really great people. And it was, you know, enjoyable for me.”
While Escalera was spending so much time in the ring, he was also working installing fire sprinklers. That turned out to be the pathway to his position at Winter Park Fire Department now.
“I met a lot of fire inspectors and they always tried to get me to come into the fire department,” Escalera said. “And I didn’t join because I was fighting and because I was doing other things and I didn’t think it would be possible. And in 2006 when the economy obviously didn’t do so well and I was laid off from my job, my mom approached me and said, ‘Now, if you want to go to school, I’ll help you with the kids. If you want to go to school, I’ll help you out so you can go make it happen.’ And so I went to school.”
Fast forward, and now seven years later, you can find Escalera fighting fires some days, and other days, he’s on rescue as a paramedic. He just returned from a two-week deployment in Louisiana, assisting with the Central Florida Task Force after Hurricane Ida slammed the area.
Escalera said nowadays, he’s chasing a different kind of high than he got when he was in the ring.
“Of course, every firefighter is an adrenaline junkie, we all, you know, love to compete against each other, and chase that high that comes from that satisfaction. There are calls that do have a little more adrenaline going than others,” Escalera said. “There’s never a time where I feel like I have to be aggressive about something other than making sure that I keep somebody alive or get myself and somebody else out of a fire.”
Escalera said he doesn’t get back into the gym the same way as he did when he was fighting, though he said he does punch a bag at the station from time to time. Instead, one of his focuses is on connecting to the community as Central Florida has become more diverse over the years.
“I don’t know that I really noticed it happening a lot because I was in it. And I experienced it. So maybe I didn’t really notice it so much until I started with the fire department and running calls on people who didn’t speak English. And knowing that the only way to help was through somebody that could either translate for them or, you know, somebody that could relate to them,” Escalera said.
Escalera said that’s one of the ways he can help—because he does speak Spanish. Although he moved to Central Florida when he was just three years old, he credits his mother with not only being his biggest fan and supporter, but also with making sure he never lost his Puerto Rican heritage. She never let him forget Spanish, and now, he’s able to better serve his community because of it.
“I don’t know that I see myself as a role model for people. But I mean, I guess I kind of am because, especially when I walk into a house, and I see another little kid who may look like me, you know, when I was little, I didn’t see a lot of people that looked like me running around,” Escalera said. “So when they see somebody that looks like them, and they can relate to at least in appearance, it helps them to think ‘Maybe I can do something, maybe I can go out one day and be helping people as well.’ And being able to have somebody to comfort you, in a time of need, is always going to be important. So if I can do that, even if it’s just by being able to hold their hand and speak a little Spanish to them, or talk in their native tongue to them, you know, then that’s what I can do.”
He said the key to learning more about people, or maybe someone from a different culture than you, is being open-minded. And if all else fails, he said you can connect with food.
“I always try to bring some sort of my heritage, whether it’s food or music into the station. I think sometimes the guys don’t know how to receive it sometimes. But I think the food is always a hit with them. You know, who, who doesn’t love arroz con habichuelas?”