The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Intermediate EMT Ann Wright and paramedic David Grimsley wheel a patient to the Bernalillo ambulance after a rollover accident on US 550 in Bernalillo.

Intermediate EMT Ann Wright and paramedic David Grimsley wheel a patient to the Bernalillo ambulance after a rollover accident on US 550 in Bernalillo. The town's only ambulance then transported the patient to an Albuquerque hospital.

Sandoval County Fire Department up for election

Bill Diven

A consultant has told Sandoval County only two things stand between it and modern emergency fire and medical services: money and coordination.

The money issue may be settled in December when voters in the county’s unincorporated areas will be asked to continue an existing fire-protection tax and to approve a new tax for emergency medical services. Coordination is another matter.

“There are numerous key players, and their agendas may not match,” consultant L. Stan Holden told county commissioners. For adequate medical response, he added, “You need teamwork driven by the needs of the patient.”

A fifty-eight-page report prepared by Holden recommends creating a county-wide authority involving local and tribal governments and existing volunteer fire departments and community rescue squads. Holden also sees a need for four strategically located stations staffed twenty-four hours a day by paid professionals backed by the volunteers.

“The last thing you want to do is discourage volunteers from participating,” Holden told the Signpost. “They are a valuable resource in every community.”

Holden is chief of the Santa Fe County Fire Department which reorganized in 1997 and has 350 volunteers. He performed his work for Sandoval County separately as a contract consultant.

Currently only two ambulances with paid staff respond to emergencies in the county, one from Cuba and the other from Bernalillo. If community volunteers are on another call, waits for an ambulance of one hour in isolated areas and thirty minutes in populated areas are not uncommon, according to Holden.

Further, Bernalillo town officials have complained about subsidizing county needs. State officials have warned the town that continued tapping of cash reserves for ambulance services—almost $200,000 this year—will lead to a budget crisis if not contained.

Under Holden’s plan, a new Sandoval County Fire Department would answer to a single fire chief, with one medical director overseeing medical technicians and paramedics.

“It’s important from my point of view to have only one medical director,” Holden said. “Someone has to be responsible and independent. That person is the patient advocate within the system.”

County fire marshal Clark “Sparky” Speakman told the Signpost he has been working with Holden for about a year and considers the plan a good blueprint for where to begin. Despite the good work of volunteer firefighters and medics, demands are growing beyond their abilities, he said.

“One of our big problems is that volunteers are not available during the day to run emergency medical calls,” said Speakman who warned, “Almost everyone has to buy into this system if it is to work properly.”

County attorney David Mathews said he has asked the U.S. Department of Justice for an expedited review of plans to conduct a mail-in election on the tax questions. The county is one of twelve in the state under federal court agreements governing outreach to non-English-speaking voters.

Sandoval County routinely hires translators fluent in the Navajo language and two Pueblo dialects to work with voters on tribal lands. Nearly fifty-four hundred Native American voters were registered in the county for the recent special election amending the state constitution.

Mathews said the mail-in election tentatively is scheduled for December 9 and excludes the incorporated municipalities.

One ballot question would continue the current 0.25 percent gross-receipts tax, generally called a sales tax, to support fire departments. the tax raises about $800,000 annually for equipment and operation but cannot be spent on personnel.

The second question would impose a new 0.25 percent sales tax for emergency services which can be spent on salaries as well as operations. Municipalities joining a county-wide system would bring their own revenue to the effort.

During October, the county commission also:

 Accepted the low bids of Three B’s Construction Company to build the Seven Springs fire substation for $68,925 and the Cochiti Mesa substation for $88,445.

 Authorized $50,000 for purchase of a fire truck for the La Cueva Volunteer Fire Department at Jemez Springs.

 Approved a letter of support for the efforts of Aguas Madres of Jemez Springs to locate fifty-thousand-gallon water tanks for domestic and fire use in the Jemez Corridor. “We have nothing to put out a fire on the top of the mountain,” Aguas Madres president Nancy Blecha told commissioners. “During one forest fire, firefighters pulled fifteen thousand gallons a day from the twelve-thousand-gallon tank at Cañon,” she said.


Placitas Fire Brigade firefighter Bud Brinkerhoff demonstrates a search-and-rescue-technique to a group of students at Placias Elementary School

Placitas Fire Brigade firefighter Bud Brinkerhoff demonstrates a search-and-rescue-technique to a group of students at Placias Elementary School
during Fire Prevention Week activities.
The children were treated to demonstrations and tours of the fire truck.

Stay safe from fire this winter

Paul Bearce
Fire Chief
Placitas Volunteer Fire Brigade

Typically when the cold weather hits our cozy village, we like to snuggle up with a good book and a blanket in our chair next to the fireplace or woodstove. However, that cozy fire brings along with it an inherent danger of sparking a house fire if you’re not careful. I would like to talk about some ways to stay safe from fire this winter.

If you don’t clean your chimneys or stovepipes the buildup of unburned materials can ignite and cause a chimney fire. This will usually present with a glowing stovepipe, flames spouting from the top of the chimney, or even a roaring sound behind the wall. If caught in time, these fires can be put out with little damage to the home. However, if they burn for a while, the heat from the fire can extend into the wooden structures of the walls and spread fire through the walls and ceiling.

I have fought numerous fires such as these. They are difficult to gain access to and will often cause significant damage to the home. Sometimes, the home is a complete loss.

Another way a fireplace can ignite a house fire occurs when the fire in the fireplace box is allowed to burn too hot. This can also create enough heat behind the box to start the walls on fire. We had two fires of this type in our village last year. They are also tough to fight because the fire can spread to other parts of the house.

Furthermore, fire can escape the fireplace if allowed to burn unchecked without a screen or door. Sparks from the popping sap or embers can fall onto carpet or furniture and cause a fire in that room.

So, if you don’t want us to show up at your house in our big green trucks and start tearing apart your walls and ceilings, please do these few simple things to help prevent chimney fires:

 Clean your chimney or stovepipe at least once a year. If you burn a lot, clean it more often. The smoke from some pinewood deposits more unburned materials in the chimney than smoke from hardwoods does. If you burn pine, clean the chimney several times during the season.

 Keep your fire in check. Don’t allow it to burn too hot, and use a screen or door on your fireplace or woodstove.

If you remember these simple tasks, you can help prevent a devastating fire in your house this winter.

    PVFB Wish List For November

Last month we asked residents if they had any fitness equipment that was gathering dust in their garages. The response was wonderful. We got some gear to help keep us in shape. This month I would like to ask again for any old towels or shop rags we can use to help wash our trucks. We only have a few and they get wet fast. We’d also like to ask for donations of small stuffed animals that we can give to small children who end up in our rescue. A small, clean, huggable toy can make a sick or injured child feel a little bit better.

If you’d like to donate any of these items, just call 867-5080 to arrange for a pickup. Thanks again for all of your support.


Make room for your new car—donate your used one

The biggest problem most people face when buying a new car is what to do with the used one. There are three basic options: trading it in, selling it, or donating it to charity.

If you choose to donate it, that is where the not-for-profit organization cars4charities can help. They will pick up your car free of charge, send the net proceeds to the charity you select (guaranteeing that the charity receives 75 percent of the car’s value), and provide you with documentation for your tax deduction.

For further information, go to or call cars4charities at 1-866




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