Caloosa Belle

Inspiring LaBelle – A Wildland Firefighter’s Journey

Elmer Sauceda was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras in 1986. He grew up in a small community amongst his relatives and friends. Life was very different then.

When he was nearly 13 years old, tragedy struck Sauceda and his close-knit family. A hurricane barreled through his country leaving a trail of destruction in its path. After the torrential rains, a river crested and washed away the walls of a nearby prison. His father, a photographer and reporter for the local newspaper, jumped at the chance to cover the story and acquire close up pictures. Sadly, as his father was perched atop a two-story home to take photos, the force of the raging river washed the house off of its foundation. His father was also swept away and never found.

Elmer Sauceda with his wife Griselda (left) and his mother Deysi Osorto (right). (Submitted photo)

This tragic event sparked a desire to help others. Sauceda knew that one day he would become a rescue worker of some sort so that he would be able to help others. Wanting to give her son an escape from all of the heartbreak, his mom made arrangements for Sauceda to go to the United States. Originally, he was only going to spend three weeks in Homestead, Florida with his aunt and uncle. But, he actually ended up staying with them for nearly eight months before returning to Honduras. Even though he didn’t know it, this was also when he first met his future wife, Griselda.

Sauceda’s mother knew she wanted to provide her son with better opportunities. When he was just 16 years old, he moved back to Homestead and eventually found friends of the family who were willing to become his legal guardians. Speaking no English, he quickly enrolled in Homestead High School where he studied diligently for nearly eight months. While attending school, Sauceda took it upon himself to find part-time work, and mowed lawns on the weekend.

At 17, he enrolled in Coral Gables High School. During this time he found part-time work washing cars at a local car dealership, and was soon able to tell his mom that she no longer needed to send him money. With the assistance of his guardians and the money he earned working after school, he was able to pay his own way.

While at Coral Gables High School, he met a teacher named Mrs. Mayra Massot who had a profound impact on his life. Urging him to learn the language, she insisted that he immerse himself in anything that had to do with the English language. Thanks to this teacher’s dedication, Sauceda was completely fluent in English in just two years. He stated that “Mrs. Massot stayed on top of me to make sure I did everything right to learn the language.”

In 2005, after speaking English for only a short time, Sauceda graduated from Coral Gables High School with a 3.6 grade point average (GPA). After graduation, he hit a couple of roadblocks. He had no legal documentation making getting into college a challenge. The cost of tuition and books seemed like a pipedream as well. Fortunately, his principal knew the President of Miami-Dade College. Due to Sauceda’s exemplary academic performance, all of the necessary paperwork was completed and he was able to enroll at the college with a full scholarship. During his college years, he was also able to fix his legal status, eventually becoming a legal U.S. Citizen.

Sauceda earned his A.A. Degree from Miami-Dade College in 2007. However, he was not ready to stop learning. He remembered his vow to help others, and after enrolling in the Miami-Dade College’s Fire Academy, he earned his certification in Firefighting during the summer of 2007. After this achievement, he then went right back and got certified as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).

Having some education under his belt, Sauceda was ready to enter the workforce. When the economy crashed, his dreams of becoming a rescue worker seemed out of reach. He continued to work part-time at various odd jobs while applying for firefighter work across the country.

In 2010, as fate would have it, Sauceda reconnected with his childhood friend, Griselda. Love was in the air, and in 2012 he married the love of his life. He also applied for a job as a Wildland Firefighter with the State of Florida Forest Service. Landing the job, it took Sauceda nearly a year to become certified in this position. Still feeling the urge to continue his education, he decided to go back to college.

Sauceda enrolled in Florida International University (FIU) in January of 2012. While still working full-time as a Wildland Firefighter, he eventually earned his B.A. Degree in Public Administration.

Not one to sit around with nothing to do with his free time, Sauceda took advantage of the financial assistance from the State of Florida, and enrolled in graduate school at FIU. While continuing to work full-time, he is almost finished earning his Master’s Degree in Public Administration. After completing his final core class this summer, he will have another diploma to hang on his wall at the end of July.

Perhaps one of the most inspiring quotes ever stated comes from Elmer Sauceda. As he was finishing telling his story, he very humbly said, “values and education are much more important than money.” He truly believes that “you have to keep learning every day because it keeps you alive.” His faith, perseverance, and dedication are evident when he speaks about living a simple life and always being the best person one can be.

Although Sauceda loves his job working as a Wildland Firefighter, he hopes the future will one day include a position in the city or county that will allow him to give back to the community, so that he can “make a difference and give back.” He is not afraid of hard work, and his track record is proof.

For nearly six years, his wife, Griselda, has stood by his side and been his constant support system. Although she works very hard at her job at Forrey Grill, she still finds time to help her husband as much as she can. He stated, “when it comes to education and life, you have to have that special person who accepts you and your dreams.”

When they are not working, this quiet yet dynamic duo intentionally make time for each other. They both enjoy spending time doing things together. In fact, they have a tandem bike that they often ride around the city of LaBelle. If Sauceda could change one thing about this little city, it would be to have bike paths or sidewalks throughout the community to encourage more local residents to ride their bikes. He is a strong supporter of living a healthy lifestyle.

On a final inspirational note, Sauceda wants people to be willing to take control of their own lives, and always live each day as if it were their last. The opportunities are there, and people just have to be willing to work for what they want. He challenged the public to “learn as much as possible, and you will be able to do amazing things in this country.” Wise words Mr. Sauceda.