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TX FF Mentor Villareal Dies at 71

TX FF Mentor Villareal Dies at 71

The Houston Chronicle via YellowBrix

July 11, 2010

Gilbert Villareal, who was known for mentoring young firefighters during his nearly 40 years with the department, died July 4 from complications of a brain aneurysm. He was 71.

Villareal, who retired from the Houston Fire Department in 2001, was born in 1938 in Dallas, but moved to Houston with his family as a child. He attended Jefferson Davis High School before entering the Marine Corps.

Shortly after returning to Houston, he applied to the police and fire departments. The fire department was the first to call, remembered his brother Raymond Faz.

Villareal joined up in 1963 and rose quickly up the ranks, soon becoming a captain.

In the 1960s and 1970s, he was one of the few Hispanics in that position, earning him recognition as a trailblazer. Loved to put out fires

Although Villareal could have gone higher, getting promoted meant he no longer would have been involved in the nitty-gritty of fighting fires and responding to calls, Faz said. He decided to stay a captain.

“He just liked putting out fires,” Faz said.

Outside of work, Villareal served as a role model for young firefighters and a youthful Adrian Garcia, whose family hung out and went fishing with the Villareals.

In the firefighter, the current Harris County sheriff saw someone to look up to and respect.

“He talked about the difficult work that he had. All of that always made a big impression on me,” Garcia remembered.

As the years passed, Villareal had his share of triumphs and tragedy. In the 1970s, he got in a crash while riding on a rig, sustaining serious head injuries.

Before long, however, he was working again, helping to earn him his nickname of “Nails” because he was considered tough as nails. No slacking off

As a department veteran in the 1990s, Villareal was a mentor to a series of new firefighters.

Paul Bivens was the final rookie to learn the ropes from Villareal. Joining up as a fresh-faced 21-year-old around 1996, Bivens learned that there was no slacking off when the man sometimes referred to as “Captain V” was on duty.

“He barked, he could be intimidating,” Bivens recalled. “But he just wanted to make sure that you knew your job, that you knew what you were doing.”

There were a few key things Bivens learned from Villareal: “Take your job seriously, don’t shortcut anything. Make sure when you do anything you do it right the first time,” Bivens said. “Take care of your crew and your family, be a good employee and be a good firefighter.”

Villareal is survived by his wife, Maria D. Villareal, three children, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Services were held Saturday.