Ask Vince Garcia what he's enjoyed most during his 31 years with the Newton Fire/EMS Department, and his answer comes quickly: his fellow emergency responders, who are more than just coworkers. They are family.

"There's no secrets," said Garcia, who is a firefighter/EMT based at Station No. 1. "You can pretty much tell them anything."

Garcia's last day on duty was Monday, and Newton Fire/EMS honored him with a special reception that drew a crowd of family members, coworkers and friends from the community.

"Vince is our most senior member and his legacy of service will carry on but he will be greatly missed," said Mark Willis, chief of the Newton Fire/EMS Department. "He's a real leader for the department."

Garcia was born in California, but his parents originally were from Newton, and they eventually moved the family back to Newton. Garcia spent some time working for the railroad, until one of his best friends encouraged him to apply to the Newton fire department.

He's faced challenges during his career, including heartbreaking calls such as car accidents and a house fire at Christmastime that claimed the lives of three children a memory that still causes Garcia's voice to fill with emotion. Those tragedies are difficult to respond to, but what kept Garcia going was a desire to help people in their greatest moments of need.

Garcia will continue to face challenges now that he is retired. A diagnosis of ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease, caused him to retire earlier than he planned, but he maintains a positive spirit. He plans to spent time with family and stay occupied with woodworking projects.

"I don't want to just sit," he said.