Wheeling to the WUI and wildfires

Volunteer firefighters to get new trucks to tackle blazes in mountain terrain

By Cody Hooks
chooks@taosnews.com
Posted 7/19/18

Getting the new equipment and buildings for volunteer fire stations have been a long time coming for the 13 fire districts from Peñasco to Amalia, which need new the upgrades to handle the terrain and types of calls they respond to.

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Wheeling to the WUI and wildfires

Volunteer firefighters to get new trucks to tackle blazes in mountain terrain

Posted

For much of the 34 years Randy Sahd has been a leader of the one of the Peñasco Volunteer Fire Department, one of the trucks he’d take to burning fields and houses was manufactured in 1969. Sahd kept the truck shiny and functional, but it finally had to be replaced.

That was about 10 years ago. Now, thanks to a loan and years of frugal savings by local volunteer fire chiefs like Sahd, the rest of the county’s aging fleet is also getting some major upgrades in the coming months.

Getting the new equipment and buildings have been a long time coming, according to Taos County Fire Chief Michael Cordova, who said the 13 volunteer fire districts from Peñasco to Amalia need new equipment to handle the terrain and types of calls they respond to.

“Each district got something,” Cordova said. “We surely wish it was a whole lot more,” but he’s excited that several of the stations will be fully outfitted once the new trucks come in.

Much of the money to buy the equipment will come out of a $3.5 million loan to Taos County that’s earmarked specifically for the fire districts, Cordova said. The country took out the loan on future revenues from a countywide sales tax, called the fire excise tax. Money generated from that tax will go toward paying down the balance.

But almost every district is matching the loan money with nickels and dimes from annual budget allocations they’ve judicially squirreled away over the years.

Sahd’s department recently received a new truck that’s equipped for fires in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), or places on the edge of the national forest, of which there are plenty. Sahd’s department covers the entire Peñasco Valley and southern half of the county between U.S. Hill and the borders with Mora and Rio Arriba counties. The department relies on mutual aid agreements with the Dixon, Mora and Ojo Sarco volunteer fire crews for reinforcement on calls in the hinterlands of Taos County.

But the Taos County commission also approved a slew of purchases June 26 during its regular public meeting, totaling a little more than $1.27 million for trucks alone.

Most of the trucks will be coming from Deep South Fire Trucks, a company in Mississippi that specializes in custom-built fire engines.

According to online documents, the Carson volunteer fire department will be getting a new Type 3 “brush truck” that’s suited for the sagebrush landscape around western parts of Taos County. Type 3 engines have been key pieces of equipment in the initial responses to a number of the wildfires that have broken out around Northern New Mexico in recent months. The Carson firetruck will cost $302,670 and finish “suiting out their department” and should reduce some of the response times, Cordova said.

The Cerro department north of Questa will be getting two new vehicles, ranging in price from about $166,000 to a little more than $300,000. One will be a Type 5 wildland engine, a relatively small truck that’s more suitable for quick responses in hard-to-reach areas. The county also greenlighted the department to get a new “pumper-tender,” which Cordova said is a type of hybrid engine that has a lot of water storage (from 2,000 to 3,000 gallons) as well as more pump power. The county is moving toward having more of their engines custom-built with this dual function in mind, Cordova said.

The Mississippi-based contractor will outfit the Hondo-Seco department with a 4-wheel drive truck with more water storage, which “will really help out…getting up those steep hills they have in their district,” he said. Tres Piedras is getting a “quick attack rescue truck,” which will bring the department’s entire fleet up to date. Lastly, the county commission approved the Peñasco department to also get a new four-door fire pumper truck for $473,748, though it will be paid for with money from state funds and fire-specific sales tax revenue dedicated for fire protection.

Cordova said the loan must be spent down by December, which is why the flurry of spending is happening now. Other upgrades happening thanks to the loan include a side-by-side (ORV) for the county’s Wheeler Peak ropes rescue team in Red River (which is separate from the Village of Red River’s fire department), a new command vehicle for the Latir department and a new water tender for the La Lama department, the last of which was delivered to the station last autumn.

Elsa Vigil, the procurement officer for Taos County, said that getting the trucks in-hand could take at least six months. Cordova said the Peñasco pumper will take even a little longer for the company to build and deliver, just because of the complexity of add-ons to be outfitted onto the truck.

The aging firehouses dotting the county have also badly needed repairs for quite some time. The loan paid for the construction of the new San Cristobal fire station that opened earlier this year, as well as the new Rio Fernando firehouse, which will be the same design as the San Cristobal station and could be built in the coming months, Cordova said. Rio Fernando, which serves Taos Canyon, will use its current firehouse as a substation.

Hondo-Seco department’s station in Arroyo Hondo will be getting $35,300 to pay for firehouse upgrades including sealing cracks inside the cinder-block building and installing new insulation. 4-A’s Construction won that remodeling contract.

Furthermore, the county is trying to build a new fire station in Costilla and renovate the stations in Ojo Caliente and Amalia, Cordova said.

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