SANTA FE COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – Firefighter staffing shortages in Santa Fe County are taking a toll as the union president shares that they can’t get recruits through the door. Fire departments have been experiencing extreme staffing shortages for years now.
Eutimio Ortiz is the Santa Fe County Firefighters Association President for Local 4366. He shared, “I don’t know if that’s because of COVID and you know what people saw what firefighters were actually doing during the pandemic, and maybe that kind of strayed people away from the profession.”
Station 62 provides medical first response and fire in Santa Fe county. “They are our first response in the Las Campana’s and Tesuque area,” Ortiz continued; but it’s frequently shut down because there aren’t enough firefighters. Now surrounding areas will suffer as response times are expected to double. “The national standard is 6 minutes to respond to an emergency. They might be able to accomplish that when 62 is open most of the time, but when it’s closed it’s not going to happen,” said Ortiz.
In 2021 Station 62 came to the rescue when a restaurant across the street had a kitchen fire. Hannah d’Errico is the manager at Arroyo Vino Restaurant and Bar. She shared, “If they had not been right across the street it would have taken them much longer and damage would have been worse and we would have been closed for longer than we actually were.” But now businesses and people living nearby won’t have that luxury. “Concerned about response times, and just generally a little bit disappointed. It was really nice to have,” said d’Errico.
With the state’s fire season looming around the corner, firefighters are trying to brace themselves. “It starts to play a big role in the amount of work that a firefighter has to do on a fire. We have some key areas that we’re worried about…the eastern side of Santa Fe County there’s really no great way to fight a fire out there with all the houses and lack of fire hydrants,” Ortiz said.
House Bill 495, a bipartisan bill, would have created a new fund for firefighter health care. The bill would allow firefighters to access up to $5,000 per year to pay for insurance, deductible, etc. However, it never made it out of the committee.