As Fire Marshal Al Mata readies for retirement after four decades of service to the city, he leaves behind a legacy of service and safety to the citizens of Odessa.
Mata, who has been fire marshal since 2013, first began working for the city in 1977 in the engineering department, also working with planning and zoning and code enforcement, and Mata joined Odessa Fire Rescue in 1995 as a fire inspector after seeing an opening for the position.
“I would never regret that day ever since then,” Mata said. “It’s a pretty rewarding career.”
Mata said that reward comes from the opportunities he gets to help the citizens and companies of Odessa. The fire marshal’s office is responsible for providing inspections for commercial buildings, ensuring and maintaining a safe environment for the city.
After five years as a fire inspector, Mata was promoted to assistant fire marshal in 2000, and was later promoted to his role as fire marshal in 2013, where he oversees the activities of the office, including inspections, investigations, and public education on the topic of fire safety.
As fire marshal, he, and all of the fire inspectors and investigators in his office, are certified peace officers, allowing them to charge anyone with crimes, such as arson. Mata said he’s seen just about everything during his time at OFR, including some cases of arson disguised as accidental in attempts to get insurance money.
Mata said it comes down to a scientific method of study when examining fires, looking for fire patterns to determine the point of origin for the fire.
“Most people, when they see a structure, everything’s burnt,” he said. “The investigators see something totally different. There’s always something you can work with.”
What Mata is most proud of in his time as Fire Marshal was his streamlining of the plans review and permit processes for new construction. The Fire Marshal’s office reviews all plans and offers guidance for contractors wanting to construct a new building in the city.
“We try to make it as smooth as possible,” he said. “We identify all possible problems and address them before they actually start, that way there will be a smooth process between us and the contractor.”
Part of that process involves guidance in the implementation of sprinkler and fire alarm systems, working with installers and architects to make sure those measures are installed correctly in the building.
Cruz Castillo, president of JSA Architects, has worked with Mata on a number of building projects, and said he was very knowledgeable and helpful in regards to making sure buildings met proper safety and fire codes.
“He’s always had an open mind in reviewing fire and building code requirements and helping not only myself, but helping property owners understand what the code means and helping come up with solutions on how to achieve the code,” Castillo said. “I’ll miss him, that’s for sure.”
Mata, 60, will officially retire this Friday, and said he made the decision to retire at this time three years ago. He said he plans on spending his time post-retirement spending more time with his family, including his six children and nine grandchildren.
Painting is also a hobby of Mata’s, and one of the more memorable contributions he’s made to the department includes a wall-length painting of a firefighter in the entrance room of OFR’s Central Fire Station.
Mata said he would most like to be remembered as someone who always focused on looking for solutions, as opposed to focusing on the problem itself. This makes the process of working with contractors run more smoothly, and makes his job easier, something he said he hopes the next Fire Marshal will continue to do.
“I hope the next fire marshal continues the ongoing training that we’ve established,” he said. “And also hope that they keep into consideration that customer service is very important, to provide the best service that we can possibly provide.”