After insurance rates skyrocketed in parts of Doña Ana County, commissioners are moving forward with a plan to consolidate fire districts.
"I think it's a big step forward for public safety, when it comes to fire or people needing a first response to a medical emergency," said County Manager Fernando Macias.
On Tuesday, the commission will negotiate the salaries of six new firefighters and two new lieutenant positions, according to the agenda. The goal is to create 24-hour. The plan will consolidate the existing 16 districts into four.
Residents slammed commissioners in September after learning that multiple fire districts were understaffed.
"Why don't you guarantee that my kids are safe?" North Valley resident Kassi Simpson asked commissioners in September. "This is unacceptable. Don't look my children in the eyes and say that this is good enough."
Months ago, commissioners learned six of the 16 districts throughout the county received failing grades from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). At the time, Macias said the six districts had fewer than four volunteer firefighters.
"It isn't a lack of people showing up to the fires," Macias told commissioners in September. "Both career and volunteer firefighters are there responding to every fire. It's a question of the dynamics of the assessment of insurance risk."
Macias told ABC-7 the county is also considering offering incentive pay to volunteer firefighters.
"We're at a stage where we're transitioning into what we consider to be a more effective overall system to provide security when it comes to fires and medical emergencies," Macias said.
According to the Sun-News:
- Six fire districts in northern Doña Ana County (Fairacres, Doña Ana, Garfield, Radium Springs, Organ, Rincon) will be combined into a north district.
- Four central districts would be combined (Las Alturas, Mesquite, South Valley, New Mexico State University) to form a central district.
- Finally, five southern districts (Anthony, Chamberino, Chaparral, La Mesa, La Union) would combine in the county's new south district.
According to that report, the Santa Teresa district would not be affected by the consolidation.
UPDATE: Manager Macias asked for this clarification on Tuesday: No stations would be closed as a result of the consolidation. Rather, the existing boundaries of fire districts would be changed to reflect four districts, with no impact to the continued operation with the eighteen individual fire stations.
After salary negotiations are over, Macias said the county will advertise the positions. The new staffers are expected to start next spring.