9/11 tragedy created Charlotte firefighter, artist, community builder

“Everything in life, in my brain, works around art.”

9/11 tragedy created Charlotte firefighter, artist, community builder

Charlotte firefighters work an average of 52 hours a week on 24-hour shifts. In only 3 1/2 minutes, the heat from a house fire can reach over 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. For one Charlotte firefighter, the hours and heat aren’t enough, so he has a scorching-hot hobby.

Ferney Mercado has been fighting fires for nearly 10 years. However, even when he’s away from the firehouse, he’s using the element of fire at his art studio, Char’d, at his home.

Char’d actually started with a need, both financial and as a way for me to express myself,” Mercado said.

Content Continues Below
(MOTUS Media/Photo Credit: MOTUS Media)

In 2016, Mercado found motivation in a traditional Japanese wood charring technique known as Shou Sugi Ban and started Char’d Urban Woodworks and creates beautiful, character-filled pieces of art. From his signature char’d-cuterie board to dining tables, his creativity seems limitless.

“The way my mind works, everything I do, the way I view materials, the way I view wood grain, it’s art to me,” he said. “Everything in life, in my brain, works around art.”

Shou Sugi Ban, which translates to the burning of Japanese cypress, is a traditional Japanese technique of charring wood to repel water, prevent sun damage and make it rot and insect-resistant.

(MOTUS Media/Photo Credit: MOTUS Media)
(MOTUS Media/Photo Credit: MOTUS Media)

“Once you put (wood) through a planer and you start seeing the grains come to life, that definitely wakes me up in the morning,” Mercado said. “It really motivates me to show up every day in this workshop and do that work necessary to become a better woodworker.”

With a need for a creative outlet when he is away from the fire department, Mercado uses amazing skill to transform wood, but his intensity in his woodworking studio is magnified tenfold as a firefighter.

“Being a firefighter is the most awesome job in the world, the way you positively affect the community in what you do,” he said.

His decision to become a firefighter happened on the day he sat in class on Sept. 11, 2001, and watched the World Trade Center buildings fall in New York City.

The 9/11 attacks not only became the single deadliest terrorist attack in human history; they were also the deadliest event ever for firefighters, as well as for law enforcement officers in the United States.

“I can remember just sitting there wondering what I could do to help. I was in high school trying to form a plan in my head how I could get to New York to help,” Mercado said.

Mercado is the youngest of four children brought up by a single mother who worked multiple jobs in order to support the family, so he experienced plenty of challenges. He grew up in what he said was a rough neighborhood.

Mercado, his wife and son
Mercado, his wife and son

“There was a lot of violence and a lot of drugs in my neighborhood. It just seemed like the norm, but I didn’t want to grow up to be a product of that environment,” he said. “I had to move past what I was seeing and create my own path.”

A decade after the fall of the towers in New York City, Mercado became a firefighter in 2011.

As the Hispanic population grows in Charlotte, Mercado believes there is a great need for the evolution of the firehouse to include Spanish-speaking employees and to diversify its workforce.

“The fire department should look like the community we serve,” Mercado said. “A lot of times, we deal with people on the worst days of their lives, and at a minimum, we should be able to communicate with them.”

During this Hispanic Heritage Month, Mercado believes it is essential to embrace his Puerto Rican heritage, Latino roots and the legacy he has received from his past generations of family.

“Our roots are very important, and it makes us who we are,” Mercado said. “Those generations before us, we have to keep those cultural connections going in whatever way you feel comfortable.”

Speaking with Mercado, you quickly understand that he wants to inspire this generation of young people that there are boundless opportunities no matter where they come from.

He now knows what he imagined when he was a kid and wants to share with the next generation of kids the hopes that he had growing up with limited financial means.

“Be strong, overcome and don’t be afraid to be yourself,” he said. “Whatever it is that you have in mind for you. Whatever passion you have, whatever aspirations you have, then definitely go for it. Don’t be afraid to be different.”

Mercado uses the destructive element of fire to create exquisite art and has navigated the challenges of his childhood to ignite hope in the community.

If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.