RETIRED U.S. ARMY
Working today as a certified electro mechanic on RTD’s light rail trains, Michael LaFrance traces his hard-working, eager-to-learn attitude straight back to his eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve.
LaFrance says the military taught him three things:
Integrity is about doing things “for the right reasons, at the right times, every time – even when you think no one is looking. And for me, the background for that type of integrity started with a good upbringing bolstered by military training.”
Tenacity is as simple as the fable about the tortoise and the hare. “The rabbit became arrogant, relished within his apparent accomplishment, let his guard down and allowed himself to be defeated by an opponent who merely had the presence of mind to stay the course,” LaFrance said. “Tenacity is the quality that wins the race, every time. It’s not how smart, fast or strong you think you are.”
And non-complacency is understanding that you don’t know everything – and never will. It’s studying something every day. It’s learning to speak new languages or, in realizing that an electrically driven vehicle motor will soon be replacing an internal combustion engine, re-reading that chapter on three-phase motors and electro-magnetism.
“Every single time that I stuck with a task, I was able to achieve it,” LaFrance said. “Show up to the race every day and keep moving. Concentrating on the task at hand is a huge military value.”
LaFrance was raised in New Orleans. He grew up not having everything he wanted. He learned basic car repair from neighborhood friends, a money-saving skill that his mother appreciated and that would come in handy later in life.
Immediately after high school, LaFrance joined the military. His tenure in the U.S. Army Reserve financially allowed him to work on his college degree from Xavier University. Six months into the first Gulf War in 1991 and after college graduation, LaFrance was activated. He trained at Fort Polk, Louisiana. But the war ended before he could be shipped overseas. “I’m one of the lucky ones who didn’t have to go over there and either hurt someone or get hurt,” LaFrance said.
After a move to Colorado in 1999, LaFrance worked in hospital security. Doing that job, he met a few police officers who encouraged him to enroll in a police academy. After academy graduation, he worked for two Colorado police departments for about 10 years, then returned to private security at RTD.
While working as a transit security officer, LaFrance met many RTD employees. He noticed something unusual. “I saw how happy they were,” he said. “I saw people retire and come back to work for RTD – sometimes voluntarily! I knew that you really had to like the people you worked with in order to return to a place where you didn’t have to be. I found that incredible.”
LaFrance applied to RTD, got hired and started working his way up. His first job was in service and cleaning on light rail trains, followed by a job as a mechanic helper in bus maintenance, to full-fledged bus mechanic. His curiosity about the technical side of light rail maintenance and the opportunity to learn something new drew him back to the trains, where he has been an electro mechanic since 2017.
LaFrance tries to instill some of his personal beliefs about work habits and life outlook within his two “tough and well-adjusted” daughters. Growing up under the guidance of a tough mother who provided all of the needs and some of the wants he had, LaFrance tackles each day with zeal. He spent 10 years learning Spanish and is now studying German, French and Portuguese in his spare time – all while trying to stay current on his electro-mechanical training.
When it comes to his job, LaFrance sees the bigger picture.
“I take my job seriously because I help keep our trains running safely and effectively,” he said. “There are a lot of people out there who depend on public transportation to get to their doctor's appointments, to the grocery store, safely. And that goes back to my passion of providing security and keeping people safe. I feel that I'm helping all the people who need us – even if I never get the chance to meet them. All of my careers have been about keeping people safe, and I am extremely passionate, tenacious and non-complacent when it comes to my jobs and responsibilities.”
To this day, LaFrance said, the most influential time in his life was when he was in the military, and he can relate that to the service aspect of his job with RTD.
“This is how we serve the public,” he said. “This is how we tell the public we care about them. We strive to keep the trains and buses safe, clean and running on time. Providing excellent service and anticipating the needs of others is what keeps me going every day.”