VALENCIA COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – In Valencia County, the Rio Grande Estates Volunteer Fire Department’s roster is only about half full and they need more volunteers to step forward quickly.
“We have about 25 members on the roster now that are active. We think somewhere between 40 and 45 members would be a good start to really help us answer all the calls that we get,” Chief Taylor Lewis said.
Lewis says because this station is a volunteer one and they cannot provide any salaries, they see a lot of turnover.
“Once they get proficient in their skills they usually seek employment in a career fire department such as AFD or the county,” Lewis said.
Volunteers do not need to live in Valencia or have any experience at the time they apply. Lewis says all their training is free and taken care of.
“New recruits will basically go through basic firefighter training. It’ll start with HAZMAT awareness and operations, then they go for an 80-hour course called Firefighter 1. They get EMS training, at first responder or basic level. Once that’s done you can go to any career department,” Lewis said.
Lewis says the people who suffer the most if the volunteer shortage continues is the community.
“No one would want to call 911 and not get a response,” Lewis said.
Lewis says “a couple of calls a week” are not getting answered because of the shortage of volunteers.
“We answer as many as we can, but that’s kind of just the nature of it right now,” Lewis said.
Lewis says when a call is dropped at RGEFD, mutual aid is kicked in and a surrounding department should pick up the call. When that happens, response times are increased significantly.
“Unfortunately, the citizens of Rio Communities are the ones that are going to hurt the most and have that emergency need and not get a response,” Lewis said.
Eight year veteran of the department, Edward Butler, says he’s made this his second career.
“I feel like I’m giving back to the community. I was very lucky to retire at 52 and still be in good enough health to do this,” Butler said.
Most of the calls RGEFD responds to are medical calls, though they do also respond to structure and wildland fires, and Butler says those calls are the most meaningful.
“A lot of times you’re their doctor. You’re the only one that cares that they’re still alive and they’re there waiting for you,” Butler said.
New recruit, Michael Cameron, says he decided to join to help make a difference.
“Honestly, if no one shows up then, who’s going to put the fire out? Who’s going to help other people? Who’s going to save lives?” Cameron said.
No one needs prior experience to apply, but Lieutenant Alex Beattie says it does take a special kind of person to do this job.
“All of these volunteers [have] humongous, big hearts, dedicated. They’ll give everything they got. They’ll put their life up to save someone else,” Beattie said.
Anyone who is interested in applying can do the following:
- Visit the station/staff on any Wednesday evening from 7-9 p.m. at 108 Rio Communities Boulevard Rio Communities, New Mexico
- Email the station at RGEFD@hotmail.com
- Call the station at 505-864-6161
- Or, visit their Facebook page, here.