LAND O'LAKES — Pasco Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Cynthia Holland was emotional when speaking of her colleague, Capt. Louis Herrero, who retired Tuesday after a turbulent year.
"It's tough to know someone who went through such a hard time," she said. "We wish him nothing but the best."
Herrero, 47, knew as a child that he wanted to be a firefighter and was hired by the agency on May 31, 1985, a few weeks after his 20th birthday. In his years with Pasco Fire Rescue, he saw and dealt with horrible things, as those in that profession have to do.
"We're not machines," Herrero said in a 1998 Times article about his heroic attempts to rescue a pregnant mother and her two young children from a fire. All died.
"I've seen kids killed in car wrecks, in drownings," said Herrero. "It haunts you."
The pain, apparently, became so overwhelming that, on Dec. 13, 2011, Herrero had a breakdown. A colleague found him at his Lutz home, intoxicated and paranoid, authorities said. Herrero pointed a pistol at the ceiling, and the friend backed out and called the Sheriff's Office.
That began a tense four-hour standoff in which a Pasco sheriff's detective fired three shots after Herrero raised his shotgun toward law enforcement officers. None of the shots hit Herrero, who was taken into custody after a SWAT team fired tear gas canisters into the home. Herrero never fired his gun.
He faced several charges of aggravated assault on law enforcement, which were reduced to three misdemeanor counts of improper exhibition of a firearm, court records say. Herrero pleaded guilty to the charges in May and received a year of probation. As part of his sentence, he had to continue taking his prescribed medication and doing psychological evaluations, records say.
Herrero, who made $71,774 annually, was on inactive unpaid status with Fire Rescue from his arrest until June, when he returned to the agency, said Pasco County personnel director Barbara DeSimone.
"We made sure that he was cleared by a counselor before he came back," DeSimone said.
Holland said Herrero was on light duty for a month before heading back into the field, where he worked at a busy fire station in Trinity. She said the agency is reviewing its policies to see what more it can do to help members cope with the horrific things they deal with routinely.
"We see a lot of ugly things," she said. "We see a lot of bad things. And it's okay to talk about it."
Herrero, who did not return a call Wednesday for comment on this article, has been open in talking with colleagues about what he went through, Holland said.
"I hope that we can learn from it," she said. "And I hope that he's going to be fine."
Holland said that when he announced his retirement plans on Tuesday — which were effective immediately — he spoke of wanting to do something to help other first responders deal with trauma.
"He wants to help educate and be a part of the solution," she said.
She said his reason for retiring was that it was time. He wants to enjoy being with his family and to go fishing, she said.
"He dedicated a lot of years of service to the citizens of Pasco County," Holland said.
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.