Torrance County got a mobile command unit that will allow it to interact with other agencies in the event of an emergency—and they got it for a steal.

Emergency Manager and acting Fire Chief Matt Propp said the most important aspect of buying the mobile command unit is the ability to have “interoperability” with other agencies.

“To be able to unify a command into one area that we can all work together, that we can make decisions together, it makes the incident safer for all of our personnel,” he said. “It makes the event go smoother because we have a guided direction, you know, not one decision coming from one vehicle, and not one decision coming from another vehicle, all the information is unified and sent out as one message. I think that’s going to be really big for our agencies as far as cooperation.”

Propp said the vehicle has radios with multiple channels, allowing him to communicate with Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties, State Police, and other agencies like the Forest Service.

“All these agencies that have different radio channels—now we have the ability to talk with all of them,” he said.

Propp also said the unit comes with seven radio set ups, wi-fi, televisions, two generators, and the ability to equip a camera up top, which is something Propp said he wants to buy eventually.

Propp said that the uses for the mobile command unit are pretty broad: The unit can be used when there are fires, if there are long term crime scene investigations, even events that people need to have coordinated effort, and that other agencies can use it if it benefits them as well.

“What we’re looking to do is actually just be a good partner in the East Mountain community,” he said. “If Santa Fe County or Edgewood or Bernalillo County had a big event and they needed it, we would bring it out to support them as well.”

Torrance County Manager Janice Barela echoed that statement. “Being able to also be good partners with our surrounding counties and helping to provide resources for them too, instead of Torrance County always asking Santa Fe County or Bernalillo County for their resources, we have the opportunity to help others,” she said.

Propp said the next year will hopefully be filled with new changes.

“We’re at that point now where we’re seeing more disasters, we’re seeing more emergencies, they’re more complex,” he said. “We need to catch up to that. When people call 911, they need that reliable response, and we need to provide that to them. That’s bolstering our volunteer departments, that’s looking at a combination of integrating some career people in, so we start getting that 24/7 coverage.”

The vehicle will comfortably hold 10 to 12 people, said Propp.

“Any time we had the forest fires up by the mountain, or we had big events where we have multiple agencies, it gets kind of chaotic,” he said. “A bunch of people sitting in pick-up trucks and SUVs not talking to each other, and that’s what we want to fix. We want to get everybody into one vehicle where decisions can be made.”

Propp said Torrance County purchased the unit from Mt. Lebanon Fire Department in Pennsylvania, which had an original asking price of $90,000.

“When we were looking, I was actually getting discouraged over the last year, just of what the price of these things were,” he said. “We sought out some grants, and it was just, it just never really seemed within our reach. Then, by circumstance, I happened to reach out to this chief, and said, ‘Hey, I heard you might be getting rid of this thing, we can’t really give you what you’re asking for.’ We had a lengthy conversation, and I think he saw the need for one in our area. They were really cool, and gave us an amazing, amazing price.”

Propp said Torrance County was able to negotiate from a $90,000 asking price down to $30,000.

The county sold a surplus vehicle to Sandoval County, which covered most of the price of the mobile unit, he said.

Propp said the unit only had 6,000 miles on it and was almost brand new. He said buying a unit like that from a dealership could cost anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000.

Propp said awhile back, Torrance County had acquired an old travel trailer from Hurricane Katrina that was used as a makeshift command post, but the logistics for traveling with the trailer were difficult.

“The disadvantage to that was any time we needed to respond [to an emergency], we had to have a truck that was able to go pull it and pick it up, and obviously there’s the challenges of getting it into places, pulling a big trailer like that,” he said. “Now, we have a self-contained unit for basically whoever is going to bring it just hops in and starts it up and drives it up there.”

Propp also said Torrance County just purchased a new building near Moriarty, west of Route 66, which will be used for emergency management, some fire apparatus, and an emergency shelter.

“My goal in the next year, you’ll see a lot of growth out of this agency, both emergency management and fire,” he said.

Felecia Pohl
Felecia Pohl