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Nearly 120 square miles of homes, businesses, nuclear facilities and forest land fall under the jurisdiction of the Los Alamos Fire Department.
The 150-person department is charged with protecting the townsite and White Rock, which measure about 16 square miles, about 43 square miles that comprise Los Alamos National Laboratory as well as the initial response to 59 square miles of adjacent federal lands.
The U.S. Forest Service, Bandelier National Monument, General Services Administration, the Bureau of Land Management and the tribal lands of the Santa Clara and San Ildefonso Pueblos control the federal lands within Los Alamos County.
LAFD enlisted representative input from all of these entities in creating its strategic plan.
“We wanted to find out what their concerns were so we invited 35 people and ending up with 18 who joined in helping us develop what we call our ‘community driven strategic plan,’” Fire Chief Doug Tucker said. “This was part of our accreditation process … we wanted to have a working document … we’re going through our budget process right now so we’re utilizing the strategic plan as we go through this process.”
One of the most significant things to come out of the development process for the new strategic plan was a set of core values for the department, he said.
“We’ve had some individuals within the department make mistakes and use poor judgment but what we find is that overall, our core values and our department remain intact,” Tucker said.
Highlights of the LAFD’s core values include maintaining a positive attitude, readiness, involvement, discipline and excellence.
County Council Chair Sharon Stover, former Councilor Ralph Phelps, Business Director John Wolf from Los Alamos Public Schools and NNSA Emergency Program Manager Bill Gentile were among those who participated in the collective effort.
“We went through a variety of goals and priorities and ranked what we felt were most important to us,” Stover said. “This was a very important exercise and it was great that Chief Tucker wanted to involve all of the stakeholders in this process.”
The strategic plan details the fact that Los Alamos County has two routes for ingress and egress: N.M. 4 and the 502 and the residential population of the county is about 18,800. These residents are housed in about 8,300 units with 24 percent being multi-unit structures. Many of the housing units in Los Alamos County were built before 1960.
The laboratory work population is approximately 12,000, located in about 2,100 buildings, according to the plan. Local firefighter responsibilities at LANL cover hazardous materials of all kinds concentrated including many types of chemicals, flammable liquids, cryogenics, explosives, biological agents, special nuclear materials and radioactive materials.
“Although fire suppression service demands at LANL have been minimal, the potential risk is significant,” Tucker said in the plan.
The LAFD operates under a cooperative agreement with DOE and NNSA and the majority of its funding and equipment are provided through that relationship.
The contractual agreement between the county and DOE originated in 1988 and was transitioned to the University of California in 1997, to LANS in 2006 with a new cooperative agreement signed in 2008.
The department operates out of five fire stations, a training facility and fire administrative offices. In 2009, firefighters responded to 1,981 emergency calls.
Discussions about replacing three of these stations and the administrative offices with new construction and building an additional two fire stations are underway.