There comes a time in every successful entrepreneur’s life when you are faced with adversity, sometimes so great it makes you question continuing on your path. Then when the challenge is accepted, the adversity is conquered, and the experience is chalked up to a lesson, you feel unstoppable…You feel like a survivor.

Then there is a demographic of entrepreneurs who are survivors in every sense of the word, and five years ago on June 12th, 2016 at 2:02 AM these two men became a part of that demographic, one by getting away from Pulse Nightclub and one going towards it.  

Trust me when I tell you that what they each experienced is unimaginable. 49 lives were taken and countless lives changed forever that night when hate entered the building and joy turned to anguish. It is ironic that hate seems to gravitate to love and chaos only erupts where there is peace. But the one single factor that got many through the darkness that followed is the same thing that gets many entrepreneurs through their dark times…hope and taking things one day at a time.

The Music Never Stops

Ray Rivera, professionally known as DJ Infinite, was a resident DJ at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. With over 30 years of experience on the turntables which are now laptops, he knows how to work with a crowd and give people what they want. He had been working the Latin dance floor at Pulse that night and when shots rang out he hid patrons under his booth and then ushered them out a backdoor to safety. What was never made public was that the center of his livelihood, all of his equipment including laptops that held his entire music catalog and cell phone were seized by the FBI and not returned to him for almost 3 months after the shooting. Once returned, it was like reliving the nightmare because he had equipment that had bullet holes and blood splatters. His cell phone contained photos he had taken of the full dance floor that night. A painful reminder of not only those that didn’t make it out but just how close he came to not making it out himself; that he was almost killed doing the very thing he loved and dedicated the last 32 years of his life to, so how would he ever be able to DJ again? But this is what Ray did. Being DJ Infinite was his passion and his profession and he needed to find a way to bounce back and overcome the PTSD caused by the shooting. He told me that he remembers thinking, “If I don’t make it back, it is just one more thing he (the shooter) takes and I wasn’t willing to allow him to take my business or anything else”.

DJ Infinite looking ahead
DJ Infinite looking ahead

So roughly 10 days later Ray was back at it. He embraced being known as “the Pulse DJ”, and with some loaner gear he was making guest DJ rounds in local clubs and with the assistance of a PR firm (Sixty5 Media) that volunteered to help, he made national appearances like at San Diego Pride the following year, being featured in national magazines like People Magazine, and worked with the owner of the Pulse nightclub on projects under the foundation she created, the One Pulse Foundation, to honor the 49 victims that didn’t make it out.

Ray "DJ Infinite" Rivera DJing at Pulse in 2016
Ray “DJ Infinite” Rivera DJing at Pulse in 2016

He dove head first into promoting himself, creating Mix CD’s, had decals and t-shirts with his name and logo for giveaway, worked new gigs, etc. He hustled harder than he ever had before which he says helped him get through the tough times along with his kids and wife Patty who he says is his rock. “Work kept me focused on the music and the joy it could bring. I just wanted to help people enjoy life amid the pain.” The hustle helped him grow professionally and helped him heal personally.

As if personally and professionally surviving a mass shooting wasn’t enough, last year Ray’s DJ business was hit with the fallout from the COVID-19 quarantine shutdowns of restaurants and bars. And while you would think two life and career altering events would have been enough to make any entrepreneur throw in the towel, it just made him once again look at the bigger picture and hustle harder.

“One thing about life after Pulse is perspective and gratitude. Sure this sucks, but I knew at some point the pandemic would get controlled and we would be back in the club. That wasn’t the case for a lot of great people at Pulse. I just focused on that and the real love I have for music and making people feel good no matter where I am so I just started to live stream from a home studio on Facebook. Everyone got a live DJ in the comfort of their own home”.

Which I personally have to admit; even I had a couple of amazing home office party’s during the pandemic compliments of DJ Infinite. One of my best pandemic memories of 2020 was our mailman coming to the front door for a signature delivery and witnesses me yelling with my computer speakers blasting one of Ray’s live DJ Live streams that had an old 80’s mix with Rock Master Scott, “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fi-ya we don’t need to water let the mother f*cker burn!!” And after a brief pause my mailman throws his hands up, and yells “burn mother f*cker, burn!”  The power of good music never disappoints.

I asked Ray after all he has experienced what advice he would give to a young DJ starting out and the Veteran DJ that might be struggling to stay afloat or get to that next level.

Ray Rivera Performing at San Diego Pride in 2017
Ray Rivera Performing at San Diego Pride in 2017

“For the young DJ just starting out, be humble and respect the DJs that have come before you. For any veteran DJ that might be struggling, hustle, grind and stay true to yourself”.

 Remembering that this is the 5 year remembrance for Pulse, I asked Ray when he looks back at who he was June 11th 2016, what has changed personally and professionally after June 12th 2016 and his answer was simple.

“Gratitude; I take nothing for granted anymore. I live in the moment and I am so grateful to be here to spend time with my family and still being able to do what I love”.

Another Hero At the Call of Duty

Outside of the club back in 2016, EMT / Firefighter Carlos Tavarez and his partner Joshua Granada had just offloaded a patient at an ER only a half mile away from Pulse when the first shots rang out. Carlos was talking to a police officer and overheard the active shooter call on the officer’s radio so he and Joshua jumped in their ambulance and raced to the scene. They were the first medics on scene and ended up being the only unit because, as the others arrived, they were held back in the staging area because the gunman was still active. After returning from dropping the first victim at the ER who had been shot in the stomach, they anticipated a handful more in the similar condition. But what they returned to had erupted into pure chaos in just minutes. The street was now flooded with people screaming and crying, either looking for friends and loved ones or walking wounded trying to get help or make it to the hospital. Then they saw those whose injuries were extremely critical and needed to get to the ER immediately, and as Carlos had stated in a previous interview, “We saw injuries we’d only read about”.

Photo Courtesy of The Rescue Company 1

Here they were in the midst of an active shooter scene, threats that the shooter had placed bombs around exterior of the club, and surrounded by what seemed like endless victims actively bleeding; Carlos and his partner did their jobs without hesitation and were ultimately responsible for transporting nearly a third of the victims that were treated at Orlando Regional Medical Center that night. But the experience would leave a lasting impression on both he and his partner; not just emotionally, but professionally and intuitively.

When I asked Carlos what made the incident at Pulse different from any other mass casualty call or shooting call he had done in his 20-year career he said, “The biggest difference was we never had mass shooting training. Any training that we (Carlos and his partner) had, had been from classes we took on our own or from EMS competitions that we did, everyone else on scene that night had no training”.

After that night, like any good entrepreneur he recognized that there was a problem that needed to be solved, and The Rescue Company 1 was born. There were already companies offering EMS training for different scenarios, in fact he worked for a few of them, Carlos knew starting his own company gave him a niche that the other companies were currently benefiting from…him; his active duty experience and his connection with others in the industry that also had at least a decade of recent experience under their belt. And trust me when I tell you that recent experience matters in this industry.

Just 20 years ago EMTs and paramedics were using the Thomas Brothers Guide to map to calls and writing their reports by hand. Whereas today mapping is done online and each unit carries an iPad to do paperless run reports. Knowing all of the popular illegal street drugs was crucial for overdoses, today it knowing what is popular in prescription medications to treat patients of all walks of life. Overdose calls are no longer the stereotypical homeless junkie. They are the affluent straight-A high school student and the neighborhood soccer Mom. And of course, mass shootings weren’t a weekly occurrence.

Carlos knew he could provide better and more realistic training if he did it working for himself and creating his own curriculums.

Carlos Teaching Intubation Techniques
Carlos Teaching Intubation Techniques

 I asked Carlos how his experience as a Paramedic has benefitted him as a business owner and what similarities he has experienced. “Instinct and planning ahead for the bigger picture, as a paramedic when I am rolling up to a call I am in charge and my decisions can affect all of us there for a long time. As fast as you can make a great decision you can just as easily make the wrong one with an irreversible outcome. So I am arriving with a plan in mind how to treat this patient or situation and also have a Plan B out of the gate. As a medic, your split-second decisions can affect an outcome long down the road and you have to have a plan for that. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should and I approach my business the same way.”

When The Rescue Company 1, first launched his work partner and best friend, Joshua Granada was again by his side. But over time the struggles and lack of support from the Orlando Fire Department after the Pulse shooting resulted in Joshua needing to step away from the business to focus on his own continued healing. There were so many EMS personnel on scene that night who were deeply affected and whose lives were changed forever. As citizens it’s easy to forget what these heroes bring home every night or that their traumatic injuries might not be visible after a call like the Pulse shooting. Some are still struggling, some have good days and bad days, and they all had different ways of coping and healing. For Carlos it was starting his business and making it successful. He chose to use his hustle to help him heal like Ray did.  He also chose to leave the Orlando Fire Department where he worked for 20 years as a firefighter / medic. He is also a licensed RN, CTRN, CEN, TCRN, CFRN, CPEN, LNC, and works with the City of Lake Mary Fire Department and as a Flight Nurse with the Orlando Health Air Care Flight Team.

The company offers training every position in EMS from Medics, to flight nurses, critical care transports, members of search and rescue, etc. If you have ever asked Annie if she was okay, they have a class for you. They bring everything under one roof so students don’t have to go to different schools to learn different techniques or get certified. They also make their classes more affordable which is again likely attributed to Carlos’ own experience in the field where almost always EMS workers pay for their own continuing education, even though a requirement to renew most licenses is turning in Continuing Education Units (CEUs).  

Carlos working his Flight Nurse gig with Orlando Health Air Care Flight Team
Carlos working his Flight Nurse gig with Orlando Health Air Care Flight Team

They also teach civilians and can do corporate trainings for the workplace which was also a need Carlos recognized after the Pulse shooting. “After the Pulse call I really recognized that the bystanders and people on scene are the actually first responders. So training them how to stop bleeding, moving an injured co-worker to safety, CPR, and basic first-aid is something we also offer”.

For more info on The Rescue Company 1, visit them online at www.TheRescueCompany1.com . You can follow them on Instagram and Facebook @TheRescueCompany1.

To find out where Ray “DJ Infinite” Rivera is playing each week, visit his official website at www.DJInfinite.net and you can follow him on all social media platforms @DjInfinite407. 

June 12th will forever hold meaning and memories to both Ray and Carlos and they will forever be a part of the history of Pulse nightclub and one of the worst mass shootings in our nation’s history. But make no mistake…they are not victims – they are survivors who are now thriving one day at a time.

Do you know of any other heroes from this tragic night? Leave a comment below.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.