In some ways, the Elmer Santiago story writes itself: Born and raised in Amsterdam, NY, this son of Puerto Rican farmers would go on to become a Senior Lieutenant firefighter and paramedic for the Amsterdam Fire Department, and a proud dad, and be widely known throughout the Capital Region as the nicest guy in town. But, as so many good tales worth telling reveal, Santiago’s life has been filled with the exciting peaks and devastating valleys now requisite of all superhero films. Still, without fail, you can find Santiago with an inviting grin on his face, ready to crack another not-quite-hilarious joke. He’s just a sweet guy—not exactly the adjective his tough-as-nails job implies, but it’s true. And who doesn’t crave some sweetness in their life?
I’m not exactly sure when I first met Elmer; his presence in my life just became a constant one day, and his relentless kindness, unquestioning generosity and natural paternal instincts pair well with his serious social skills—just try having a good time without him!
This Saratoga Springs resident is one of 14(!) children—can you even imagine?—yet Santiago treats his loved ones with a serenity of spirit and patience that would impress Job. To watch him around his youngest kids—Brody, 7, and Gavin, 3—is a master class in parenting: the perfect intersection where friend meets discipline. Santiago wears that look well.
Recently, I sat down with my favorite firefighting superhero and got him to open up just a little bit about himself. Let’s find out together what makes this superhero tick.
What’s the feeling when you put on the uniform every morning? Is it a rush, or are you always aware how inherently dangerous your chosen career is?
It’s not a rush as you said, Richard. It’s more a sense of pride. Not knowing what kind of day it’s going to be is the rush, but knowing on those “busy” days that I’m helping someone on their worst day makes me proud.
What’s the last heroic thing you did?
This isn’t a story that ends with sunshine and rainbows. A call came through as a structure fire, and when we arrived, we encountered heavy smoke, heavy fire. We fought this large fire in a hasty manner, working as a tight team in a coordinated effort. Making our way to the second floor to rescue a female, I instructed my partner to search the room where we found her. Together, we carried her out to where the paramedics were eagerly waiting to do what they do best. They were giving her every possible chance to live, but unfortunately, life isn’t always fair. It’s not a great memory, and heroism typically seems to be viewed in a powerful, positive light. Unfortunately, this isn’t Hollywood, and it is what I signed up for. I was there to do my job and give this individual every chance to fight for her life. My job is a blessing and a curse. Big shout-out to all my brothers and sisters who answer the same calls I do.
Every time I’m with you, you seem to know half the people in any given room. Are you the unofficial Mayor of Saratoga Springs?
[Laughs] I guess I’ve put a fair amount of time in with my friends at some of my favorite places in town—Osteria Danny, Cantina, The Barrelhouse, The Adelphi Hotel, Hamlet & Ghost. I don’t think I’m the unofficial Mayor, but I do consider myself a talkative “Happy Hour Hero.”