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Notes from the Chief: Angel Fire Fire Department update

by Angel Fire Fire Chief Kevin Henson
ANGEL FIRE — On Nov. 20, Angel Fire Chief Kevin Henson took to the Angel Fire Fire Department Social Media page to update the village on the status of several issues plaguing the fire department. Chief Henson thanked the community for donations and their support during the process of procuring new apparatuses and equipment that is out of date and needs replacing. The following is from Chief Henson on the status of the department:
“Earlier this week, we held a town hall meeting to openly discuss the status of our first out fire apparatus, and proposed replacement plans.  I needed to share a recent issue that could impact firefighter safety, community fire capabilities and potentially homeowner’s property insurance.

Our personnel are clearly our biggest asset.  The standards and expectations that we have for our personnel are the same regardless of whether they are paid or volunteer.  Their dedication and commitment to our community is amazing…

We currently have three stocked ambulances for the village.  Only one unit is staffed 24/7, and the others are staffed by volunteers, employee call-backs, Captain Craig Sime or myself.  We need to retire our oldest ambulance soon.  I have applied for a grant from the NM Department of Health to obtain funding to replace one ambulance.  We will not know if we are successful with the grant until May 1, 2022.  Due to supply chain issues and related factors, an ambulance is taking about 15 months to build and deliver.

Due to the inherent danger in firefighting, we have adopted a number of NFPA standards and best practices.  We bring in independent experts to annually test every inch of our firehose, our breathing air station, our self-contained breathing apparatus, every rung of every ladder, and the water pumps on our fire trucks.  We do the same for our EMS equipment…  We invest a significant amount of money in keeping our fleet safe and ready to respond.

This year, during our routine annual fire truck pump testing, we experienced two catastrophic failures.  Our primary engine for Station 3 (near transfer station) is 33 years old.  The estimate to repair the engine was $54,000-$65,000.  For perspective, most fire departments keep a fire engine in first-out status for about 10 years, and then move it to reserve status at 15 years.  We do not have any reserve fire engines.

We also had a failure of pump testing with our aged water tender.  The purpose of a tender is to bring water to the scene to help fight a fire…  For Angel Fire, our water system (which we inherited) has many areas of water lines that are too small to move sufficient water, and in many areas, we don’t have a fire hydrant within 1000 feet of structures, so a tender becomes critical.  For any structure fire, we need to respond with our tender, and having it fail is a significant concern for the safety of our firefighters and our community…

We participate in multi-agency training with our neighboring fire departments.  About two months ago, we had a multi-agency training in Eagle Nest.  We knew what the training objectives were, and we had plenty of people, and apparatus.  The incident had a fire hydrant less than one mile away, and we had three water tenders immediately available to “shuttle” water and relay pump to the primary engine.  Even with three tenders, we were not able to maintain fire flow for a significant amount of time.  We will continue to train together, and we will get better.  The point is that tenders in our community are critical for firefighting.

Our water tender has a fire rated pump on it.  That allows the tender to draft (draw) water from other sources like Monte Verde lake or from water drop tanks (used during tender shuttles).  It also allows the tender to pump water from a fire hydrant to the primary fire attack engine (called relay pumping).  This is often necessary due to fire hydrant distance, geography, slope of terrain, and overall access.

Most insurance companies rely on the fire suppression rating schedule, as defined by the Insurance Services Office (ISO).  ISO is an insurance advisory organization that provides statistical and actuarial information to business (insurance companies).  The ISO schedule is ranked from 1-10, with 1 being the best possible score.  We are currently rated at a Class 5.  When ISO evaluates a fire department within a community, they look at four primary categories of fire suppression.  The fire department and all appropriate training and recordkeeping, emergency communications, water supply and community risk reduction.  Water supply for us is a combination of our water system and the 600 plus hydrants in our Village, as well as the water we can bring to the scene via water tenders from our fire department as well as our neighboring agencies.  Anything that potentially improves or worsens our ISO rating can potentially impact homeowner/property insurance.

Within the past six months, the frequency of inquiries that we receive from insurance companies regarding our fire department and what we are able to provide has significantly increased.  While Angel Fire has not experienced a significant fire loss in recent years, we have obviously had big fires directly to the south of us as well as northeast.  In addition to being asked what our ISO rating is, insurance companies are also asking questions like: (1) How many stations do you have (2) how many miles from each station are they located (3) do you have an all career fire department or do you also need to rely on volunteers?  They will often give us an address and ask us how many miles that is from a fire station, and how long it would take us to respond, as well as where is the nearest fire hydrant located from the property that they are considering insurance coverage for.

Having our only pumper tender unable to pump water, and a primary fire engine out of service is a big deal for many reasons including ISO, insurance availability and firefighter safety.

On Nov. 9, 2021 I made a presentation to our Village Council.  I discussed the need to replace both the Tender and the 33-year-old engine.  The village operates on a very small and tight budget.  We have a cash reserve contingency fund of approximately 1 million dollars.  After listening to the various options, the council authorized me to begin to build specifications for a new fire engine and to move forward with the lawful procurement in an amount not to exceed $650,000 with funding from our contingency reserve.  I started that project the next day and am still working on the specs this weekend.  Once we identify what we want and need, it will take approximately 15-17 months for delivery of a new fire engine.

The council also authorized me to reach out to our community to educate and seek potential donations to potentially procure a four-wheel drive pumper tender that was either a demo unit, or being built without a firm buyer.  The reason for this is to find a pumper tender that can quickly be put into service, and not wait 15-17 months for it to be built.  I contacted the major fire apparatus manufacturers and started looking for an opportunity.

A week later, one company contacted me and said they might have a unit coming available.  Several days later I was contacted again.  A four-wheel drive pumper tender was in the production line, and the original buyer had backed out of the deal.  I requested drawings and specifications and studied them and we discussed and debated the issue with our firefighters.  We agreed that this pumper tender could quickly resolve many of our concerns.

During our Town Hall we discussed in detail what we need our pumper tender to do, and matched that to the specifications and capabilities of the unit we were considering.  We then redirected the conversation to fundraising.
We received a number of great ideas, and many of them will be followed up on in the coming months.  You can expect to hear more about that down the road.  I let everyone know what grants I had already applied for, and two grants that we were in the process of applying for.  The conversation evolved to a grass roots quick fund-raising effort.  Less than 24 hours later, we have received checks and personal pledges for over $280,000.
The support and understanding by our community has been incredible.

Yesterday, (Nov. 19) a special meeting of the Village Council was held.  After discussion, the council was in unanimous agreement to move forward with the purchase of the pumper tender for $346,273.  I followed our procurement process to obtain a purchase order, and emailed it to the vendor yesterday, and received confirmation back before close of business.  I will keep our community informed of the status of the pumper tender build and delivery project in the coming months.

I will also be applying for the replacement of our ladder truck via the FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant process.  More on the ladder truck will be shared in the coming months.
During our town hall meeting, I also shared what we have done to improve the state of readiness for our wildland response units.  I will provide a further update on that next spring as we begin our wildland firefighting season.”
J. Kevin Henson, Fire Chief

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