As fire chief for over five years, making decisions is as routine as reading emails. Not a day goes by that a decision must be made. When it comes to impactful decisions, I always keep in mind my systematic approach.
- How will it affect the community?
- How will it affect the department?
- How will it affect me? (I usually never get to this one; that is what keeps our integrity in check.)
As a fire chief, you must make the decision that will benefit all stakeholders, and it starts with the community; the community comes first. Allow me to share a couple of recent instances where my decisions on behalf of the department were made to serve the community better.
In April 2019, an influx of asylum-seeking refugees was dropped off in our community. As the fire department, we stepped up as the lead agency to assist with this crisis. By October of the same year, over 17,000 refugees came through Las Cruces, New Mexico. We provided shelter, food, clothing, hygiene, treatment, medications, travel arrangements, and transportation. The community came together, led by the fire department. I reflect by questioning if we did not help, there would have been 17,000 homeless and hungry people in our community, and one can only imagine the issues that would have arisen.
This year’s challenge is the Coronavirus pandemic. The Las Cruces Fire Department (LCFD) has demonstrated the dedication and work that goes far above and way beyond fighting fires for our community. With the current public health emergency, LCFD took a pivotal role to ensure adequate safety provisions and measures were acquired and applied, and that the community was provided services such as COVID-19 testing. LCFD has served as the local liaison for COVID-19 testing with the New Mexico Department of Health. A dozen firefighters have been assigned to conduct tests while working at local test sites.
LCFD has ensured our citizens’ health, safety, and welfare with knowledge and experience within an Incident Command System. I reassigned one of my deputy chiefs to command the local Office of Emergency Management. We implemented and utilized the Incident Command System to assign duties and responsibilities for health providers, first responders, vulnerable populations, and providing constant communication with elected officials and community leaders. This approach standardized the command, control, and coordination of a health crisis in our community.
Vulnerable populations in the community included more than 40 high-risk seniors that our LCFD Mobile Integrated Health Program has assisted throughout the pandemic, coordinating with local church volunteers to provide regular welfare checks by phone, and providing needs assessments and case management. LCFD also has coordinated about 150 third-party connections to transport the seniors to and from doctor appointments and make sure they have food, prescriptions, and other necessities.
Our firefighters distributed more than 10,000 face coverings to the public during the pandemic, built 1,000 sanitation kits that were delivered to our Community of Hope Homeless Shelter, and streamlined medical-supply orders to keep LCFD units available for emergency calls as well.
LCFD continues to work with local businesses in helping them comply with the state’s emergency health orders since the pandemic began. People in our community, as well as everywhere in the world, fear the unknown and therefore have relied on their local emergency responders for help and assistance. This has meant many hours of fire department personnel answering phone calls and emails from business owners and managers.
Internally we have had to figure out the best way to comply with social distancing and other health requirements within the department to keep our 177 firefighters and their families safe. Being essential to the community and reporting to work every day has been challenging for fire department personnel. The fire department must take care of our members and the city’s staff by coordinating the delivery of personal protective equipment. Within two weeks of the onset of COVID-19, LCFD was able to move training and testing online and transition its office staff to working from home. We also implemented new policies and procedures. We canceled all station tours and community engagement events. While LCFD has dramatically missed the children and community members that pay visits to the fire stations and firefighters visiting schools since mid-March, we are doing birthday fire truck drive-bys and reaching out on social media. We posted virtual station tours and fire academy videos for the community’s viewing pleasure.
During this time, to be proactive, the department took advantage of the shutdown caused by the pandemic to conduct annual fire inspections at empty schools and non-essential businesses.
The fire department managed all of these community services and responded to the more than 19,000 EMS calls and fire calls the department receives annually.
The community has expressed its gratitude to firefighters throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as many restaurants and residents have provided meals and edible treats to our firefighters.
I’m so proud of this department and what we’ve done to assist, serve, and find community solutions. As a fire department, we have found a way to do more, not less, during this pandemic and times of crisis for our community.
Chief Eric Enriquez has been chief of the Las Cruces Fire Department in New Mexico for four years and before that, served one year as the chief for the Hobbs Fire Department in New Mexico. December 2020 will mark 23 years of fire service for Chief Enriquez. He also has over ten years of managerial experience as a self-employed business person. He graduated from New Mexico State University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration-Finance in 1991. In July of 2016, he attended the Harvard Kennedy School for Executive Leadership Program for State and Local Government. He is an alumnus of the IAFC Fire Service Executive Development Institute. Currently, he serves as a Board of Trustee for a local hospital.