Bernalillo County implements big changes for fire marshals

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Several months from now, Bernalillo County Fire officials say they will have a fully certified staff in their fire marshal’s office. It comes on the heels of a recent revamp of the division. While department leaders say the shift is for the better, some say BCFD disregarded decades of experience when it made the changes.

They ensure school buildings are safe for children, help keep dangerous explosives off the streets and piece together clues left in rubble to learn a fire’s cause. But due to recent changes, Bernalillo County Fire has a new team, working new hours.

They switched from a standard, 24-hour firefighter shift to a Monday through Friday, eight to five schedule.

“So we can maximize the amount of inspections that are done and capitalize on our need to do fire prevention,” said Bernalillo County Fire Chief Chris Celaya.

Chief Celaya points to recent studies measuring the efficiency of their 24-hour shifts. He says they found a lot of wasted time during overnight hours.

“No inspections are done and there’s very few actual investigations,” he said.

Deputy fire marshals are responsible for both. It’s why they’re required to meet a number of qualifications but, now, they have to meet even more.

An agreement between the county and local firefighters union mandated a new set of standards.

“That was done prior to my arrival, but it was to set some minimum qualifications,” said Celaya.

These are existing requirements:

  • A certified basic investigator and basic inspector
  • A passing grade on the International Fire Code Exam
  • A basic EMT license

Now, deputy fire marshals must also become engineers.

Celaya says it has to do with ensuring these men and women have real world experience before they take the position.

“You get a better individual who’s been to a lot of fires and can now see a fire scene a little bit better and, of course, when you do inspections, as well. They’re able to go into a building, understand buildings because they have some experience behind them,” Celaya explained.

Yet, some who spent years serving in the fire marshal’s office see it differently.

They didn’t want to appear on camera, but  argue the county actually lost valuable experience when it replaced long-time deputy fire marshals with new ones. In fact, they tell KRQE News 13 there was a three year battle to keep their positions in the fire marshal’s office. Former Deputy Fire Marshals say they even called on arbitration but lost.

Those who used to serve in the office claim that Memorandum of Understanding was created due to a discrepancy surrounding pay in their contract.

While Celaya says they had plenty of time to meet requirements, some former deputy fire marshals say they shouldn’t have had to go through an additional process to maintain a position they had already earned. They say the MOU was retaliatory but the union denies it.

Now, Celaya says it’s his job to enforce the county’s contract with the union — welcoming a new team of deputy fire marshals to their new shift at headquarters.

“We weren’t able to get any of them to complete all of the portions, which means we had to start from scratch,” said Chief Celaya.

Former deputy fire marshals tell KRQE News 13 that three in the old office retired and one was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. The remaining three are back in the field as firefighters. However, they did not see any change in pay. They make the same as engineers.

Below, you can find the documents pertaining to the promotion of all five former deputy fire marshals, as well as a copy of the memorandum for understanding and request for arbitration.

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