EL PASO, Texas - He served in the Air Force and as a medic and firefighter for 20 years in El Paso. Sam Peña, 47, went on to become the City's youngest fire chief.
Thursday, he added another notch in his belt: Head of fire emergency services in one of the country's biggest cities.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner introduced Chief Peña in Houston on Thursday afternoon. Peña was the head of El Paso's Fire Department for the last three and a half years.
A move to Houston means Peña will be make a huge jump in department size. He'll also receive a pension from El Paso taxpayers even though he won't be working in the Borderland anymore.
A news release from the City of El Paso states Peña plans to "retire" from EPFD, meaning he will begin to draw a percentage of his $145,000 a year salary as a pension.
"We've been hearing rumors, but for it to come as an official announcement was kind of surprising," said Joe Tellez, president of the Local 51 Firefighters Union. "He's put in his time here in El Paso. He will retire and then start his new career in Houston. His contract is with the City of El Paso. He's not part of the bargaining unit, as per state law."
Tellez said Peña will receive 55 percent of his annual salary in retirement, or about $80,000 a year. ABC-7 asked the City for the numbers, but was told to file an open records request. The El Paso Municipal Police Officer's Association told ABC-7 officers receive a similar percentage after 20 years and retiring.
"Firefighters don't do this job to get rich," Tellez said. "We're more concerned about the benefits and being able to take care of our families."
In El Paso, Chief Peña was in charge of 34 fire stations and about 900 employees. In Houston, which is the third largest fire department in the country, he'll be in charge of more than 100 stations and 4,000 employees.
"Certainly the scale is different," Peña said. "A lot of the issues are similar. They're not the same, but they're similar. Response times, equipment, personnel, those types of issues, are issues a lot of municipalities are dealing with."
"Chief Peña's departure is a huge loss for the el paso community," El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said in a statement. "I am thankful Chief Peña has agreed to work with the city manager to identify his successor from within his current team. The City of Houston is not only gaining a great fire chief, but a great individual."
"We've got a tremendous amount of talent here," Tellez said. "El Paso should be proud that there is talent available here in our department."
According to the Houston Chronicle, if his hire is approved by the Houston City Council, Peña will take over in the midst of a contentious fire pension negotiation and as Houston firefighters voice concern about aging facilities and a call for new equipment.