Fire Department wraps up busy year

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By Carol A. Clark

As a year filled with accomplishments comes to a close, the Los Alamos Fire Department welcomes 29 new recruits who graduated from five months of intense training Dec. 20. The 19th recruitment class adds two women and 27 men to department.

"The County and Los Alamos National Laboratory support was enhanced this year with the completion of the cooperative agreement with NNSA for emergency response services with the County," Assistant Chief/Fire Marshall Mike Thompson said. "This has increased our capabilities by adding staff, thereby more effectively responding to the needs of LANL and the County. This was one of the drivers for our most recent recruit class."

LAFD also has worked closely with LANL, state, and county personnel this year on drills to validate its plans and abilities for various responses, he said.

"Part of our readiness includes daily activities in which our personnel perform pre-incident planning with all major facilities in the county and at LANL and in some cases arranging comprehensive tours for our field crews to augment our nuclear grade response capabilities," Thompson said. "Our department has completed the rollout of all applicable NIMS training as directed by FEMA for response agencies giving us the added ability to respond to regional scale incidents."

In 2008, firefighters responded to some 1,970 emergency calls including six reported incidents of forgotten food left burning on stove tops throughout Los Alamos, Thompson said.

Also included were 55 car crashes with injuries within and outside the county, 22 car crashes without injuries, seven involving pedestrians and two involving bicycles.

The LAFD provided national assistance this year to the Houston area in response to Hurricane Ike as part of a task force requested through the State of New Mexico.

White Rock Fire Station 3 received two awards this year that recognize its design and the efforts that went into planning for the station and its service to the community.

The community has gone nearly three years without a fire fatality, which Thompson explained exceeds the national average and is in line with New Mexico's average per capita deaths of 15 per million annually.

"If we continue this trend, we will exceed our state average as well," he said. "With the addition of our new Public Education Trailer, we have already made a fine impression on the youth of our community with our fire safety message."

Crew health and safety was enhanced this year through wellness programs that maintain fit, healthy and capable firefighters, he said. Employee recognition continues to be a goal of the fire department, which recognizes personnel development, customer service, leadership and motivation. This year brought promotions to three captains who moved up in rank to battalion chief including Justin Cassel, Justin Grider and Dennis Martinez. Battalion Chief Jerome Finn was promoted to assistant chief.

Also this year the Los Alamos Firefighters' Association, International Association of Fire Fighters Local #3279 initially prevailed in a suit first brought by the county in 2006 against two EMT trainees for leaving LAFD before an agreed two-year minimum.

The ruling came down in July from First Judicial District Court in favor of the union related to providing paramedic contracts directly to union members.

The local union stated in a press release at the time that in choosing to provide paramedic contracts directly to union members, it violated the Public Employees Bargaining Act.

County Attorney Mary McInerny explained at the time that in return for specialized training and related benefits, firefighters are asked to complete at least two years of service with the county.

In the last 10 years, 14 firefighters have taken advantage of the training and all but two have fulfilled the obligation set forth in the contract, she said.

The county has appealed the July ruling and is awaiting a hearing.

Much effort has been put into continued dialog with the firefighters union representatives through a labor/management committee that Thompson said was created to foster a cooperative working relationship throughout the year.