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  Public Safety

Placitas Volunteer Fire Brigade volunteers Lee Couch (top)
& Charlie Drannbauer (above).

On scene with PVFB

—Captain Tom
The Placitas Volunteer Fire Brigade (PVFB) has a rich and colorful history with many unique stories. In 1973, the department was formed by a small group of concerned and dedicated citizens of Placitas. Before this time, Placitas relied on the town of Bernalillo to help in any emergencies. In 1973, there was a house fire with a fatality. Bernalillo was just too far away to respond in time, so the group thought that it was time to start their own fire department. They elected Tom Threadgill as chief. The first station, what we now call Station 43 on Perdiz Canyon Rd., is on a quarter acre of land donated by Ralph Roller. An adobe building on Kirtland Air Force Base was condemned, and we were allowed to disassemble it, bring it to Placitas, and reassemble it as a firehouse. Albuquerque Gravel Products donated the concrete. All the other work was by volunteer labor. Sometime around 1983, the two-bay station got an additional two more bays with living quarters on the back side. Several medically and fire-trained members lived in and responded from this station. A few years ago, the station had a major redo, with a new roof, improved electrical and water systems, and new furnaces. It houses at least one engine, a fully equipped rescue, and a tender.

Meet Lee and Charlie

Lee Couch has been a PVFB volunteer for two-and-a-half years. As a new member, she committed to extensive training to become an EMT-B (Emergency Medical Technician-Basic) and a wildland firefighter. Lee, who has lived in Placitas for 21 years, is a parasitologist and teaches microbiology at UNM. Her husband, Don, is also a parasitologist and an emeritus professor of biology at UNM. They have four adult children. Her hobbies and interests include reading, hiking, traveling, diving, knitting, and crocheting. When asked what she would like to do when she “grows up,” Lee responded that she would like to retire and have time for all the new things that she would like to try.

Lee found out about PVFB while attending the Placitas Appreciation Event. She has always been interested in the firefighting and medical field and gets a lot of satisfaction in helping others. One of her most memorable calls was responding to a woman who was having a possible stroke, in a semi-comatose state, slurring words, confused, etc. Lee was afraid she wouldn’t make it. But after about five minutes, while on the drive in to the hospital, the patient “came out “ of it (“woke up”) and began speaking and acting as if nothing had happened and was insisting that she be taken back home. “It was amazing!” Lee said. 

During PVFB meetings or training, we can always count on Lee to come up with interesting and thoughtful questions regarding our procedures or her observations from a scene. Her “quick questions” sometimes lead to long and informative discussions. She adds a lot to our sessions. 

Lee, who is qualified to drive all of the PVFB emergency vehicles, including the largest engine and tender, would like all drivers to pull over when they see or hear lights and sirens. She feels “if they were the ones PVFB was responding to, they would want us to be able to get there as fast and safe as possible.”

Charlie Drannbauer is another PVFB volunteer. He has been a volunteer for a total of 12 years in four different departments, including Wallkill and Ontario, New York, Westminster, Texas, and Placitas. He has had training in initial attack, SCBA, pump operator, ladder/boom operator, aircraft extrication, and Jaws of Life—all from his time in New York State. He also has basic first aid and CPR. Charlie and his wife Lynne have lived here for two years. They have one daughter who lives in Missouri. For the last 36 years, he has been a technician with Xerox Corporation. His hobbies and interests include motorcycling, camping, hunting, fishing, private pilot, and self-confessed “motor head.” He has restored a number of cars, mostly ‘60s muscle cars, a couple of ‘65 Corvettes, and a ‘66 Mustang. 

Charlie became involved in volunteer firefighting because he realized the need for it when he lived in rural New York. “I figured I wouldn’t feel right expecting someone to get up at three in the morning in a snowstorm to help me if I wasn’t willing to return the favor.” When asked about his most memorable call, Charlie responded, “There are some, but they are sometimes painful to recall. I will recall the camaraderie and the social interaction. There is a sense of pride in your department, a sense of accomplishment in helping your “neighbor,” and a respect for your “brothers and sisters” working side by side with you. This may sound corny to some, but being a member of the volunteer service has been one of the most personally rewarding activities I have participated in. It is an honor and a sense of pride knowing, that in whatever small sense, I have been able to help a neighbor through what are sometimes very difficult times.”

Sometimes volunteering involves some funny moments. Charlie recalls doing a “Wet Down.” When a neighboring department got a new piece of apparatus, there was a celebration, which involved all the other departments coming over and hosing down the new truck. They took a delivery of a new pumper/tanker, and it was parked on the apron. A member was hiding in the hose bed, so that when the other departments began their “attack,” we opened up on them with the deck gun. Charlie was able to sneak around and open their dump valves, leaving them with no water for their attack. He still remembers the chaos and laughter from both sides as they discovered they had no water.

As a long time volunteer, he would like to see a better awareness by the public. When driving past an accident scene, please slow down, and observe the firefighters and police officers. We are not the cause of the inconvenience; we are there to help.

Incidentally, both Lee and Charlie have daughters that will be getting married this year.

PVFB Fact: In 2010, we had 473 calls—312 medical and 161 fire.

PVFB Reminder: Please slow down if you come upon an accident/fire scene. Many times, there are firefighters and medics moving around. We all want to go home safely at the end of the day!

PVFB/SCFD: Making house calls 24/7.





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