Watsonville Fire Chief Rudy Lopez still remembers the day he and his son, Watsonville Police Sgt. Rudy Lopez Jr., responded to an emergency call together—a vehicle collision at Main Street and Green Valley Road.
“My emotions overcame me,” Lopez Sr. said. “I was very touched.”
After taking a quick photo together, the men joined their teams in dealing with the incident.
Lopez Sr., 57, joined WFD in 1993, and moved up the ranks until being named Chief in 2019.
Inspired by his father, Lopez Jr., 37, says he considered following in his father’s footsteps, and took fire science classes and EMT training.
“I saw how hard he worked becoming a firefighter, and I saw how much he loved his job, and that made me want to gravitate toward that,” he said. But he says his heart was not in it.
“It just was one of those things I wasn’t passionate about, and I didn’t want to keep going after something I wasn’t passionate about,” he said.
This changed when a family friend, then a Watsonville Police Department sergeant, told him to consider joining the force and arranged a ride-along with an officer.
As someone who played sports growing up, Lopez Jr. says he liked how the department worked as a team, but at the same time sent officers out on their own.
“It was one of those Watsonville busy nights, where they are responding to emergency calls left and right all through the night,” he said. “It just hooked me right away. It was something I knew would bring fulfillment to me.”
A few months later, he started with the police academy. Now a patrol Sergeant, Lopez Jr. supervises a shift of about five officers.
“I look forward to going to work,” he said. “It’s something different every day.”
Lopez Sr. says he was hoping his son would become a firefighter, but stresses that he has no regret about his career choice.
“I am extremely proud of him, I think mostly because of the nature of our work,” Lopez Sr. said. “Often people lose sight of the fact that this is a very honored profession to serve in. Not everyone is cut out to be a firefighter or a police officer. We’re talking about people’s safety, and people trust us.”
Lopez Sr. says his son’s choice was a relief because it kept him closer to home—as a firefighter he was eyeing a position in San Jose. As an emergency official, Lopez Sr. has worked alongside WPD for years.
“I am super confident in their ability to prepare him and equip him and support him to be successful,” he said. “I’d rather my son be a police officer here than a firefighter somewhere else.”
Both men say they love working in the town in which they grew up.
“The community we serve is a big part of it,” Lopez Sr. said. “Watsonville is where I struggled as a youngster, it’s the town where I found myself. It’s the town that supported me.”
Lopez Jr. says he learned many of the leadership skills necessary for his job from his father.
“He has been such a huge influence on who I am today,” he said. “Not everyone has someone they can look up to, especially a father who is in a leadership role, and get guidance from them. He’s a great leader, that’s why he’s been put in this position, and I’ve just been trying to soak all that in.”
Now a grandfather, Lopez Sr. tries to provide his grandson—also named Rudy—with the same wisdom. And he tells his son, “I will always be your dad.”
“That doesn’t change,” he said. “It’s a lifetime commitment of influence.”