Gonzales named VC fire chief

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When Steven Gonzales was a junior in high school, his eyes lit up when he saw a sign at a local fire department saying they needed help.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Valencia County Fire Chief Steven Gonzales was named head of the department in October after Charles Eaton resigned.

The 29-year-old remembers the time he and his two brothers raced over to the Rio Grande Estates Fire Station on their bicycles to apply for positions as junior firefighters.

“They accepted us with open arms,” Gonzales said.

The boys scrubbed trucks and cleaned the station “to earn their stay,” and developed a camaraderie with other firefighters who helped teach them the ropes.

He said his parents “hated” when he and his brothers would clean fire trucks instead of doing their chores at home.

“(But) the training developed us into true firefighters,” Gonzales said.

Now, Gonzales is the chief of the Valencia County Fire Department, an accomplishment he attributes to hard work and dedication.

Gonzales was named fire chief in late October after serving as interim chief for a short time following the resignation of Charles Eaton. Eaton was elected to the Valencia County Commission in November.

The 2001 Belen High School graduate said he wants to keep up the training standards in the department, hoping to prevent potential accidents where someone could be severely injured or killed.

“I want to make my personnel better than me,” Gonzales said.

He said his staff of eight paid firefighters and the numerous volunteers within the department are “ambitious and eager” to do their job. He wants to ensure that everyone works to their highest potential and so far, he is pleased with the amount of work his employees put in each day.

“I have one of the best staffs I could ever ask for,” Gonzales said. “They are very willing to do their jobs.”

Gonzales said the fire service sparked his interest after his father came home with a fire truck as the fire safety sanitation director for the New Mexico Department of Corrections.

He said he enjoys the adrenaline rush of quickly responding to incidents in and around Valencia County.

The fire chief said it’s important to help residents in any way personnel can during an emergency situation. In the case of structure fires, he said it’s rewarding to be able to recover sentimental items for people.

Gonzales has developed himself into a leader, but was surprised when he got the position of chief, he said.

He said Valencia County Manager Bruce Swingle gave him the official word in the administration parking lot before a meeting with staff.

“I didn’t feel like I was the most qualified,” Gonzales said. “I came from the field. I don’t have that much administration experience.”

Gonzales said he wants to expand his paid staff and involve more volunteers to better serve the community. He wants to add four more paid firefighters in the next year.

The addition of more paid firefighters means the department wouldn’t have to rely so heavily on volunteers who might not be available during emergencies at any given time.

“There is a need,” Gonzales said. “(Paid staff) would guarantee a response.”

Still, Gonzales said the fire crews around the county will do their best to offer superior service in emergency situations.

“I’d like the community to know that emergency service personnel are there for them,” he says.


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.