Firefighters are hailed as heroes, but are not often recognized. That changed Saturday for the volunteers of the Torrance County Fire Department, when the county threw a party for them.
Torrance County’s Fire Department is made up almost entirely of volunteers, with one paid position of fire marshal. The rank and file of firefighters and emergency medical responders are all volunteers.
As the county continues to consider standard operating guidelines which would clarify the rules and roles of the department, as well as provide a nominal stipend to help cover gas costs, it threw a party to bring the whole group together and recognize those volunteers.
Emceed by volunteer Cheryl Hamm, the event brought all six districts of the fire department together for dinner, followed by awards recognizing outstanding service.
District 1 from Duran has 150 years of combined experience from its volunteers, and named Taleisha Crabb Firefighter of the Year. In spite of being several months pregnant, Crabb responds to “almost every fire,” according to Duran’s chief, David Crabb.
With five or more years of continuous service were David Crabb, Jamil Hindi, Nazim Hindi, Tim Kane, Taleisha Crabb, Anna Hindi and Rick Koll.
In District 2, Brandon Dirks was named Firefighter of the Year for station one, and Jack Bartman took home the honor for station two. With five or more years of service were Laurel Hamm and David Brown.
The Mountainair District gave Meritorious Service Awards to Sam Blackshear and Wanda Sullenger.
District 5 named Brett Travis Firefighter of the Year. Augustina Sturchio was named EMT of the Year and Mike Trammell was Rookie of the Year. Don Dirks was honored for five years of service. Dirks was also named Fire Chief of the Year.
District 6, in Willard, named Christina Mendez Firefighter of the Year and Javier Aragon as Junior Firefighter of the Year. Certificates of achievement were presented to Larry Silva and Peg Mouser.
The fire department is always in need of volunteers, according to county manager Joy Ansley.
One problem Torrance County faces in its fire department recruitment is getting people trained who then go off and find employment—for pay—elsewhere.
And more and more responsibilities are placed on the shoulders of the chiefs all the time, Ansley said, like administrative tasks and paperwork.
“Probably we need to be migrating toward at least a few paid positions each shift,” Ansley said.
Another challenge is training, she added. Currently Torrance County sends volunteers to Socorro for three weeks of training. But the City of Moriarty is building a training center, which will help, she said. “If we can have something local and do night and weekend classes, that might help with recruitment.”
Ansley said if a person wants to volunteer, he or she should call Crystal Bostwick or Jason Trumbull at 505-384-2705.
Faye Chavez is chief of District 6, Willard, which was taken into the county’s fire department last July. Chavez said she took on the position in 2007 “when one of the chiefs stepped down and nobody in Willard wanted to take that spot.”
“I just think we should be there to help the community,” Chavez said. “I get joy out of it because I like helping people.”
One of the volunteers who got an award is her 13-year old grandson, Javier Aragon, who was named Junior Volunteer of the Year.
“I always go with her, I always help her,” he said. Asked why, he answered, “She’s my grandma.”
Aragon helps by doing some physical work for his grandmother, and he helps wash hoses, and stack hoses and other tasks, Chavez said, adding, “Really, if there was a true emergency where no one was there to run that pumper—he could do it.”
Aragon said he plans to join the fire department when he turns 18.
Augustina Sturchio is an EMT. She also runs a beauty parlor in Moriarty and has four children. “I just love it,” she said. “I try to put myself in other people’s shoes—if I was that person, I would want someone to come and help me. … Whether you’re thanked or not, you still see that change you have done for somebody.”
The hardest part of the job, she said, is, “You never feel like you’ve done enough.”
Yvonne Marrs volunteers in District 5. “I’m really active into it, I love all of it,” she said. Marrs is a new volunteer, signing up last October. Her husband is also a volunteer firefighter in the department. She said she expects to have a first responder license soon.
“Doing what we do has its own rewards,” she said. “You get to see all aspects of everybody.”
Another husband and wife volunteer team is Will and Stephanie Neufeld.
Will Neufeld said the “cheesy growing up as a little kid saying I want to be a firefighter” never wore off for him, and that “being able to help somebody when they need it” is rewarding.
He suggested that if somebody is thinking about volunteering that they “just jump in and see if it’s for you.” He said people “usually on their first fire” will know whether it is for them or not.
A volunteer firefighter for 17 years, he appreciated the recognition dinner. “To have the higher-ups, the county and the commissioners, it means a lot. We feel this separation between us and them, that they don’t really understand what we go through.”
Two of the county’s three commissioners attended the awards dinner.
Will Neufeld’s wife joined the fire department when she was 17 years old, about eight years ago. Stephanie Neufeld got into it because she is “an adrenaline junkie,” she said.
The formal recognition was less important to her than getting all of the districts together. “I don’t think we do that often enough—to enforce that we are a family unit.”
Her advice for prospective volunteers is, “Prepare yourself. If you’re not mentally prepared to deal with that, I think that could do a lot of damage—it could take a toll on you if you’re not ready for it.”
Greg Brown and his wife Rebecca used to be another husband-wife volunteer team, but that changed when they had children and he continued but she did not.
Greg Brown said he was recruited into the department about eight years ago, after a fire at his brother’s house. First his brother was recruited by the volunteers who showed up to fight the fire, then his brother recruited him, Brown said.
“You have to be an adrenaline junkie, and you have to want to do it,” he said. “You have to love the firefighters and you have to love the people. … What really draws you to it is it has to be the love of the community. I don’t get out of bed in the middle of the night because it’s going to make my wife happy or it’s going to be easy to go to work in the morning. There are no selfish people in the fire department.”
“The wife’s side of it is that I am to stand behind my husband and support him, in a Biblical fashion, without defaming his character,” said Rebecca Brown. She said it then becomes an issue of faith for her family, of teaching their three daughters to “trust the Lord to protect their daddy.”
The couple said they have recently had conversations about his volunteering with the fire department after one of their young daughters saw a firefighter die in a movie after running into a burning building. And Rebecca Brown said that while some of the people who are backing up her husband are “seasoned and trained,” others are not. “It’s hard on the wife’s side, because I don’t have any control. … The wife’s side can be good, because it brings my husband joy, and it can be really hard, and it can be heartbreaking.”
What gets him out of bed in the middle of the night, Greg Brown said, “It’s because someone has an emergency. A cat stuck in a tree to somebody is an emergency. A house on fire is someone’s emergency.”
He also suggested, “Come see what it’s all about,” to prospective volunteers. “You don’t have to want to run into a burning building—we need people to help roll hose, to clean the station, to help us shuffle trucks around for maintenance. Come out and see what it’s all about.”