As a boy growing up on the family ranch in the Southern California desert, Garrett Paiz told his older siblings he wanted to be a cowboy, a trucker and a fireman.
He did all three. Firefighting became his true passion, battling wildland blazes. For five years, Paiz, who worked as a trucker, was a seasonal firefighter at major wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, said his brother, Carlos Paiz, of Coachella.
This fall, Garrett Paiz was wrapping up the fire season in Washington and due to head south to California to see family before returning home to tiny Noel, Missouri, where he lived with his wife, Bobbie, and volunteered as a firefighter. Then the massive firestorm erupted in Sonoma and Napa counties and Paiz called to say he was postponing his trip home to help at the Atlas and Nuns fires.
On Oct. 16, he was on the Nuns fire, driving a water truck up and down steep Oakville Grade in Napa County to restock efforts on the nearby fireline. About 7 a.m., heading down the hill, his truck veered off the road and rolled down an embankment. Paiz, 38, died in the impact. The CHP still is investigating the crash.
Paiz was the only firefighter killed in the October fires, which drew more than 10,000 firefighters to multiple counties.
On Oct. 27, he was given a hero’s send‑off at a packed Destiny Church in Riverside County. They spoke of his passion for fighting wildfires, his willingness to run toward danger to help others and they thanked him for his ultimate sacrifice.
Eight firefighters from his home department in Noel, where he volunteered, participated in the California service.
Paiz had a fun-loving personality, family and friends said. He acquired the nickname “Taco” from his affinity for taco runs for himself and other firefighters. He loved wearing wildland firefighting gear and mentoring new volunteers.
“He was a loving, joyful guy, always smiling, always wanting to make people laugh. He was just a joy to be around,” said his brother.
Paiz, a White Mountain Apache, was born in Indio. He graduated from Coachella High School, where he was active in Future Farmers of America. At College of the Desert in Riverside County he studied agriculture.
As a wrangler, he worked multiple cattle drives on horseback from California to the Midwest, Carlos Paiz said. In recent years Garrett Paiz had moved to southwestern Missouri, an area discovered in his travels. There, he owned and operated Native Express Trucking.
He first learned firefighting skills in Riverside County and began volunteering with the Noel Fire Department about a year ago. Noel Chief Brandon Barrett said Paiz helped teach wildland firefighting skills to new recruits and recently had trained to pass the annual endurance test needed to work wildfires.
He is also survived by his daughter, Terri Ann Paiz, of Tehachapi; parents Armando and Judi Gaytan‑Paiz, of Coachella and sister Cinthia Paiz, of Coachella.