The New Mexico State University Fire Department celebrates its 100-year anniversary this year. According to NMSU FD Capt. Kellen Tarkington, it’s the only university fire department in the country that has a student-majority staff.
In light of the anniversary, Kokopelli reporter and contributing photographer Javier Gallegos spent a shift at the department’s on-campus fire station in order to document the work of staff and student firefighters.
On Thursday, Nov. 11, at 5 p.m., the A-shift began, and Lt. Damien Davila held a brief meeting outlining the day’s duties. Firefighter Tyler Laramore was to be tested for promotion, and probational firefighter Isaiah Hernandez was going to receive field training. The day would end with a lecture and time to write reports.
Immediately following the meeting, the crew began packing equipment to load onto the fire truck, including hoses, personal protective gear and medical supplies.
Their first stop was at the Pik Quik on Don Roser and University Avenue to, according to one crew member, “fill up the truck and ourselves.” As they crossed the parking lot after buying snacks, the radio went off with a call at 5:36 p.m. requesting help for a student with abdominal pain at Chamisa Hall. Laramore activated the emergency lights and sirens after starting up the truck and drove speedily to the scene. The firefighters arrived at 5:39 pm.
Capt. Tarkington was already at the scene. A resident at Chamisa let the firefighters inside.
The crew spent approximately 20 minutes at the scene, giving medical attention to the student in need before paramedics arrived. Driver Nicolas Tahuahua explained that firefighters must be able to assist injured people and stabilize them as best as possible while awaiting further medical assistance, as firefighters are frequently the first to respond to medical calls.
Next, the A-shift crew made its way to Arrowhead Park Early College High School for field training. Laramore was being tested for his next promotion to the rank of Driver, and Hernandez was still learning fundamentals as this was only his second week in the department.
Upon arrival, Hernandez frantically began putting on his gear as Davila timed him. All firefighters must be able to put on their full gear correctly in under one minute and 30 seconds. Isaiah got his on in one minute and 47 seconds, faster than his previous time.
For the next half hour, Hernandez practiced using the water hose and Davila coached him through the different techniques. Different types of fires require specific ways to best use the water hose, and Hernandez had to learn when to use what technique and had to have the physical ability to perform them all.
Lt. Matthew Holguin shouted instructions at Hernandez while holding the running hose. “Now, what would you do if you were walking into a scene and there’s tons of glass and debris on the floor? Sweep!” Hernandez then proceeded to aim the hose at the ground while moving it side to side as he took labored steps forward.
Laramore, meanwhile, was being tested on his ability to supply Hernandez’s hose with water and calculate the water pressure it needed to function. Tarkington gave him a series of hypothetical scenarios, with variables including rope length, diameter and engine pressure, and Laramore had to calculate an answer within seconds.
“They have to be able to do this stuff off the top of their heads because when it’s 3 a.m. and you just woke up and a building is on fire, the time it takes you to reach for a calculator could be the difference between life and death,” Tarkington said.
When training was finished, Laramore drove the squad back to the fire station where they put away their gear and swapped out their fire hoses. The crew received another call at 7:41 p.m., but it was canceled a minute later after they had all made their way into the truck.
The squad met back in the training room where Davila presented a slideshow to Hernandez on the dangers associated with firefighting. It was necessary material for Hernandez to cover during his recruit probationary period.
The material covered statistics regarding injury, cancer, suicide, addiction and the general mental health struggles related to the profession. It advocated for mental health awareness and emotional support systems, to which Davila added, “If you see anything traumatic, come talk to us. We go through stuff together.”
Laramore and Holguin had reports to work on for the department. During this time, they gave a tour of their dorms. Though they only get paid from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., they are still on call from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. For any calls that come in during the night, they must wake up, get dressed and begin driving to the scene at a moment’s notice.
Holguin used to live elsewhere on campus before joining the fire department, and said he didn’t like living in the other dorms. “I have all my brothers in the same hall. It’s more fun,” he said.
At 8:49 p.m., Davila noticed on the computer that another call had come in. Tarkington said that he saved them minutes in response time by checking manually instead of waiting to hear something on the radio. The crew left urgently. Tarkington stayed back and explained their night was essentially over.
After that call, their group work was done, and crew members were encouraged to work on their reports individually. When they returned, Hernandez served dinner to the squad. The firefighters take turns cooking dinner and Hernandez decided to order pizza during his first turn ever. Tarkington laughed at his decision.
Visit the NMSU Fire Department website to learn more about fire service at NMSU.