Junior Volunteer Firefighters James Estrada, Eric Moreno, and Vincent Gnodle have a major jumpstart on most of their peers, they know what they want to do and are doing it.
Town youth volunteer to fight fires
How many teenagers would give up every Saturday to train to become a volunteer? Not many. Well, in the Town of Bernalillo, three amazing teens have become volunteer firefighters. And to them, it’s more than just volunteering, it’s a career path and a commitment to the Town, its residents, and themselves. These young role models are eighteen-year-old Vincent Gnodle and seventeen-year-olds Eric Moreno and James Estrada.
The Town’s fire department was a volunteer-only station until June 2007, when it became a combined fire department, consisting of career and volunteer firefighters. Since then, the Town has celebrated two fire academy graduations—the first in 2007 and the second in August 2008. James graduated from the first fire academy, and Vince and Eric graduated from the second.
Each cadet had his own reasons for volunteering to fight fires. But James, son of Fire Chief John Estrada knew he wanted to be a firefighter at a very young age.
“When I was five or six, my dad would bring home his fire gear and I would play with it, and I knew that I wanted to be a firefighter when I grew up,” says James. “Being a volunteer firefighter makes me feel better as a person because I’m helping people.”
James finished the first fire academy, and is currently ranked as a Junior Volunteer Firefighter. He is a senior at Bernalillo High School and plans to continue his firefighting education as well as possibly pursuing a degree in architecture at UNM.
James’s best friend since the third grade, Eric, also joined the fire department as a Junior Volunteer Firefighter upon his completion of the second fire academy. It was James’s stories about his experiences at the academy and with the Town’s fire department that encouraged Eric to volunteer.
“With every call, there’s a swarm of butterflies in my stomach,” says Eric. “But I enjoy helping people in my community and I want to make a career out of fighting fires and helping people.”
Eric is also a senior at Bernalillo High School. His grandparents have raised him, and he has a ten-year-old brother. Eric plans to carry on his firefighting education as well and is interested in exploring opportunities in the military, welding, and auto mechanics.
Another amazing youth and recent graduate from the second fire academy is Vincent. Vincent also had the itch to battle fires and help people early on. Even his mother Victoria remembers his desire at a young age.
“I remember in the first grade, Vincent telling me that he wanted to be a firefighter,” says Victoria. “I’m excited that he found something that he enjoys and wants to do, even though as a mom I will always be a little scared.”
Vincent and Victoria discussed his aspirations with Town Mayor Patricia A. Chávez in the middle of Vincent’s senior year of high school. Mayor Chávez took down Vincent’s contact information and went to Chief Estrada and got the ball rolling for Vincent.
“I have wanted to be a firefighter forever, and I plan to make this my career,” says Vincent. “I want to thank my mom, Mayor Chávez, and Chief Estrada for helping me achieve my dream, because without them I would not be doing what I’m doing.”
Vincent graduated from Bernalillo High School in May 2008 and is currently taking EMT classes at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) in Albuquerque in pursuit of becoming a career firefighter.
Becoming a volunteer firefighter is no small task, given the fifty percent average drop-out rate of fire academy cadets. All fire academy participants are interviewed by Chief Estrada. If accepted to the academy, cadets attend fire and EMT training courses every weekend for ten months. After nearly a full year of training, the remaining cadets are challenged to take a fire test at the New Mexico State Fire Academy in Santa Fe. If cadets pass the live-fire test, they receive a nationally-recognized merit.
Since graduating from the Town’s fire academies, Vincent, Eric, and James have become close friends. They are frequently at the fire department checking the fire equipment, cleaning the fire trucks, and lifting weights at the station gym in their down time.
Fighting fires is not the only thing these three have going for them. Vincent works as a supervisor of the Youth Conservation Corps for the Town of Bernalillo. Eric works as a Maytag repair person after school and enjoys fixing vehicles and riding bulls at the annual Sandoval County Rodeo. James enjoys hunting, fishing, camping, and spending time with his family.
Even though Vincent, James, and Eric are young volunteers, their dedication to the fire department, the Town of Bernalillo, and to their local community is second to none. The one man that helped them all get started and that they look to for guidance is Fire Chief John Estrada.
Chief Estrada is no stranger to being a volunteer either. He volunteered at the Town’s fire department for sixteen years before becoming fire chief in 2007. One of his primary foci is to get the local youth involved in community service and he could not be more proud of James, Vincent, and Eric and the commitment they have made to the Town and the department.
“They are always here—every weekend and at least once during the week, and they are great volunteer firefighters,” says Chief Estrada. “They are role models for the town; they are our future leaders.”
The growth of the fire department from a voluntary station to a combined fire department can be attributed to the recent economic development backed by Mayor Patricia A. Chávez and the Town government. The fire department has grown so much, in fact, that it is planning on breaking ground on a new fire station in early December 2008.
“I am committed to the welfare of our firefighters and want to make sure they have the tools and facilities they need to protect our citizens,” says Mayor Chávez. “I’m excited to see Vincent, Eric, and James getting involved. They are setting great examples for their peers and for younger generations as well.”
—Town of Bernalillo
About 30 percent of residents in the Town of Bernalillo use wood stoves and fireplaces to heat their homes during the cold months.
Unfortunately, many are unaware of the fire risk when heating with wood and solid fuels. An average of 36 percent of residential home fires are attributable to heating related causes every year. Often these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes. All home heating systems require regular maintenance to function safely and efficiently.
The Town of Bernalillo Fire Department encourages you to practice the following safety tips to keep those heating fires safely burning.
• Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by acertified chimney specialist.
• Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to fireplaces, otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.
• Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.
• Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
• Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
• Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside your home.
• Install smoke alarms on every level of your home. Test monthly and change batteries once a year.
• Extend all vent pipes at least three feet above the roof.
Federal lawsuit to protect descanso memorials
Attorney General Gary King has joined in the U.S. Court of Appeals 10th Circuit case challenging the private use of crosses as memorials on public highways. The case could have an effect on New Mexico’s use of descansos, or memorials, along state roadways.
“Although this case is currently specific to Utah, it could adversely affect New Mexico law that protects traditional descansos,” says King. “Filing an amicus brief on our state’s behalf supports those fighting the proposed ban and helps us protect the use of crosses or other symbols in roadside memorials.”
American Atheists, Inc. is appealing a U.S. District Court in Utah’s decision against prohibiting private use of roadside crosses to memorialize fallen Utah Highway Patrol Troopers. Besides New Mexico, opposition to the proposed ban includes Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty. The City of Santa Fe has also filed a separate amicus brief in opposition to the memorial cross challenge.
Proponents of the cross ban contend the federal Establishment Clause prohibits government from erecting crosses, but Attorney General King and the other interveners say as long as (a) the government treats religious and non-religious speech neutrally, and (b) the government’s actions do not have the primary effect of endorsing religion, the government does not violate the Establishment Clause.
Sandoval County Firefighters christen the new Fire Station 21
Santa Ana Governor Ulysses G. Leon addresses the crowd gathered at the new fire station. Station 21 is the first fire station located on the Pueblo.
Fire Station 21 gets a “wet-down”
—L.A. Williams, Signpost
On November 19, firefighters from the Sandoval County Fire Department and surrounding area fire departments christened the new Station 21, located on the Pueblo of Santa Ana, with a traditional wetting with streams of water from fire hoses.
The new station is one of two fire stations that protect the Pueblo of Santa Ana, Algodones, and other parts of southern Sandoval County, but it is the first station to be located on the pueblo.
Sandoval County Fire Chief Jon Tibbetts expressed his gratitude to the Santa Ana Tribal Government, Sandoval County Commission, state legislators, and the Sandoval County Fire Chiefs Association, among many others, for their hard work and dedication to making this project come to fruition. “This would have been impossible without the partnership with the Santa Ana Pueblo, [and we] look forward to a long-lasting relationship,” said Chief Tibbetts.
The station has living quarters for fire department personnel, will house an ambulance, and contain fire-fighting apparatus including a quint apparatus—a fire engine that carries several ladders, water, hose, and water pump.
Soon-to-be State Representative and current County Commissioner Jack Thomas was on hand during the ceremony and stated that the station represents the perfect “combination of police, fire, and government working together to make the area safer,” and that “[the communities] are safer [because of] the relationships that these entities have formed.”
Station 21 is considered a temporary facility for a number of years until a permanent station is built along Tamaya Road.