The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


County to pay Bernalillo ambulance during 6-month delay in launching county fire department

Bill Diven

Sandoval County and the town of Bernalillo have resolved a dispute over ambulance funding related to the delay in launching a county fire department.

Under the agreement approved by both governments last month, the county will pay the town $146,000 for six months of ambulance operations until the new county department opens on July 1. The funding issue arose after the town set its budget based on initial county plans to start up the new department on January 1.

“We'd have to move money around, since we didn't budget for this after January 1,” town administrator Lester Swindle said. “Now they'll pay for everything, but we'll do it.”

The town responds to about seventeen hundred ambulance calls a year, roughly half of them outside town limits. The ambulance costs the town about $300,000 annually, an expense state officials have called a threat to the town's financial health.

County fire chief Jon Tibbetts told the Signpost the agreement also transitions the town ambulance and leases its building to the county effective July 1. A $50,000 grant the town received will go to the county for one of two new rescue vehicles, he said.

Those vehicles will be larger than traditional ambulances, carry more equipment, and have a water-foam system for fighting small fires, he added.

Town ambulance personnel who applied for the new county positions are being tested for the six paramedic and six intermediate jobs that will launch the county department, Tibbetts said.

“The plan is to have the town of Bernalillo people and just continue to run July 1,” he said. Others hired will be trained in wildland firefighting before attending the State Fire Academy in Socorro, he added.

Once the department us up and running, Tibbetts said he'll concentrate on finding locations for new fire stations, which will be staffed twenty-four hours a day. He also has $5 million in the bank from last month's sale of bonds supported by the county fire-fund tax.

“My goal is that the majority of that money go to the volunteers and to put together a strategic plan for replacing equipment,” Tibbetts said. The department also will benefit from a new emergency-medical-services tax approved by county voters in 2004 and expected to generate about $650,000 a year.

The county began collecting the tax last July 1 with the intention of starting up the fire department January 1. In December, however, the county announced the six-month delay, due in part to the late hiring of county fire chief Jon Tibbetts and issues related to moving town EMS staff to the county payroll.


Pick up free reflective street numbers to identify your home

Su Southwick
Jardineros de Placitas

Project Is Your Number Up? will once again be distributing numbers two Saturdays a month by the Merc. Jardineros De Placitas, in cooperation with the Placitas Volunteer Fire Department and the Sandoval County Zoning Board, will distribute the free property-identification numbers required by Sandoval County law.

Beginning Saturday, April 9, volunteers will be passing out the numbers on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. near the Merc. These reflective safety numbers are free of charge and are supplied by the Sandoval County Zoning Board.

Stop by and select the numbers you need. Numbers are also available at the zoning board office in Sandoval County Court House.

Save a life—your own. Help emergency vehicles find you.


Instructive “fire-wise” workshop held by East Mountain association

Reid Bandeen

As we watch the heavy snows of March melt and begin to flow in local creeks and arroyos, fire danger isn't the first thing that comes to mind. However, in early March, the group East Mountain Interagency Fire Protection Association hosted a workshop on managing fire risk in the wildland-urban interface. The “fire-wise” workshop brought together numerous fire-management experts and concerned citizens for a very valuable day full of information on fire mechanics, tips on prevention, and personal safety, as well as accounts of harrowing experiences and engaging participatory exercises.

The day-long workshop focused on understanding and managing the risk of wildland fires to home owners who have chosen to live either in or on the fringes of forests, the zone fire managers describe as the” wildland-urban interface,” a term that aptly describes portions of the East Mountain area and Placitas. The workshop began with a video compiled by a forest-service physicist and fire researcher on the mechanics of fire. The physicist, Dr. Jack Cohen, studied burned areas and was fascinated by the question "what causes some homes in the path of a wildland fire to burn and others to survive, virtually unaffected by the fire?"

The video reminded us that fire requires three essential elements: fuel, oxygen, and heat. Take away any one ingredient and there's no fire. Options to eliminate oxygen from the atmosphere or douse a wildland fire are fairly limited for most homeowners. Taking action in advance to control the fuel available to a fire is the home owner's most productive strategy.

Cohen discovered, through planting fireproof camera stations in the path of major wildfires, that these crown fires generally pass through a given location in less than sixty seconds. The fast-moving, high-intensity fires mostly burn the small branches and their leaves or needles in the upper canopy of the forest. During that short time the fire burns with great intensity. Cohen also discovered that even relatively flammable building materials, such as wood, require longer exposures, even to relatively high heat, to ignite from a radiant heat source (of course, low-combustibility materials, such as adobe, add an extra level of protection).

Given that the intense heat of a wildland fire is relatively short-lived, one of the keys to home protection is eliminating fuel sources close to the house which can allow fires to burn past that initial intense minute. These potential fuel sources include brush, tall grass, trees, pine needles, slash piles, and other building structures near the home. As a rule of thumb, a thirty-foot area of relatively cleared margin around the house is recommended to separate the home from the surrounding forest. Keeping one's property clear of excessive ground cover is a major defensive strategy.

Another lesson from Cohen's research involves firebrands, which are basically sparks and small embers emanating from a large fire which can pile up in the vicinity of the fire. These sparks and embers can blow into, and collect in, various spots around a home and provide a ready ignition source. Firebrands can settle and smolder almost anywhere, but two especially dangerous areas are crawl spaces and the roof. An open crawl space, especially if it harbors stored fuel like household junk, blown-in leaves, or even firewood, is an ideal fire starter. The risk to a roof is inversely proportional to its material. Metal, pro-panel, corrugated tin, and ceramic tile are optimal roof materials for minimizing fire risk. Asphalt shingles carry moderate risk. Cedar shingles are a big problem.

It's no surprise that in an interactive fire-management exercise featured in the afternoon session of the workshop, tree thinning and brush or ground-cover (grass and small shrubs) control near the home, eliminating fuel sources at and near the base of the home, and optimizing roof construction material turned out to be three of the most significant factors in reducing fire risk to a home. Researchers were also quick to note, however, that having large trees next to a home wasn’t necessarily a problem, as long as the buffer between them and the surrounding forest was in place.

A program currently active in the East Mountain area offers labor, equipment, and funding to homeowners seeking to thin brush and trees on their property to reduce fire risk in the wildland-urban interface. The East Mountain Forest Health Program, as it is called, is administered by the local (Ciudad) Soil and Water Conservation Service. Representatives of that program indicated that a similar program could be implemented in the Placitas area via the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District.

The National Forest Service and the State Forestry Division of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department offer a wealth of information on the subject. For starters, contact Karen Takai, Fire Information and Public Affairs, Sandia Ranger District (Cibola National Forest), at 281-3304; or Dave Bervin, New Mexico Forestry Division, at 867-2334.




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