Eric Emmanuele, who worked as Chief Fire Enforcement Officer/Investigator for the Milpitas Fire Department (MFD) from 2017 till the end of 2021, has retired.
Prior to working for MFD, Emmanuele was a Police Officer with the Milpitas Police Department (MPD) for 27 years, beginning in 1990. In 2012, The California Conference of Arson Investigators named him “Officer of the Year” at their annual conference. In 2015, State Sen. Bob Wieckowski honored him as a City of Milpitas Local Hero.
Then come 2017, Emmanuele parlayed his law enforcement expertise into a role at MFD where he was tasked with investigating fires, bombings, environmental crimes, explosions, and arson. In a unique move, The Milpitas Office of the Fire Marshal devised Emmanuele’s position specifically for a law enforcement officer, not a fire inspector. In his first year at MFD, Emmanuele received the Outstanding Investigator Award from the Santa Clara County Fire Investigations Task Force for the arrest of an arsonist who had committed crimes in Milpitas and San Jose.
Along with his investigating work, Emmanuele was also tasked with the proactive enforcement of the Santa Clara County Health Officers’ COVID-19 order.
But in June of 2021, Emmanuele’s Chief Enforcement Officer position was eliminated by the City of Milpitas. By then, though, Emmanuele had already been off the job, sidelined by an injury and covered by workers comp.
The injury happened back in March of last year. Emmanuele was at The Great Mall when he saw a robbery in progress. A group had been going around and stealing; they happened to run out of the mall and right in front of Emmanuele. “I used my car,” Emmanuele explains now, “to try and block ‘em in.”
His thought process was, the criminals would flee by car and somebody would get hurt. It didn’t enter his mind at that moment that that somebody might be him…
The group ran out with stolen merchandise. Emmanuele pushed his car’s bumper against their car’s bumper to hold their vehicle in place. He then stepped outside, confident that they’d be trapped. Regardless, the thieves got in their car and pushed his car out of the way, rolling it right over his foot.
They pinned him there.
Using all his strength, Emmanuele pulled his foot back. In the course of doing so, he suffered harsh injuries to his back and neck. As for his foot, it was fine – courtesy of his department-issued steel-tipped boots.
It was a case of odd timing: “Luck of the draw, I guess you could say,” Emmanuele now says. He had not been responding to a police call, but had actually been aware of the robbers’ car, as a description of it had been broadcast in the days leading up to the encounter. As Emmanuele remained at the scene, highway patrol pursued and lost the robbers. But, says Emmanuele, “I’ve seen them in the press several times since then.”
He harbors no resentment toward the people who hurt him, but he does feel disappointed about recent changes in California law that allow full-time criminals to get out of custody easier than ever before.
As for his condition, he’s “Still a little sore. I’m making improvements, but it’s been almost a year now.” He goes on to explain that he can’t walk, stand, or sit for too long, as it leads to him experiencing tingling or discomfort.
While out with his injuries, Emmanuele received word from the City of Milpitas about the possibility of him being laid off. But after his job was removed in June 2021, he remained on the workers comp rolls till the end of the year.
“I really enjoyed my job for many many many many years,” Emmanuele shares. But “now that I am retired, I’m not disappointed.”
He’s married with 5 children, the oldest of whom is 20 and the youngest of whom are twins at age 11. The 3 youngest are still under his roof. For many years now, along with his kids, he’s been heavily involved in Milpitas Boy Scout groups, and has helped to run a number of them. Most of the things he enjoys to do require physical exertion. And he’s no stranger to injuries, having endured several of them during his long career in law enforcement, namely when trying to put people into custody. The 2021 injury, however, was so extensive that it was just this past December when he started to get out and walk again.
In Emmanuele’s estimate, as many as 80 percent of MPD officers see their careers end early. They “don’t make it to 30 years,” he says. “It’s a tough job.
“A young person’s game.”
In his time at MFD, Emmanuele was the only investigator in the United States with his unique combination of certifications and expertise, which gave him the ability to investigate a wide variety of issues.
“I think,” he says now, “that it’s a very important job to take bad guys off the streets and keep ‘em away from the good, hard-working, honest citizens of Milpitas, and I’ve always enjoyed doing that.”