By Kimberly T. Rodriguez
The New Mexico State University Fire Department is one of only two student firefighter programs in the nation. The department currently has 14 full-time students who double as full-time firefighters, fully licensed and certified.
The program began in 1921 as all-volunteer. The fire station was built in 1965, by which time students who volunteered in the program were expected to respond to emergency calls.
Over the years student firefighters have been paged and had to leave class to respond to emergency calls.
The student firefighters live in dorms at the station and are required to work every other day starting at five p.m. to eight a.m. during the weekdays. On weekends, two teams of seven firefighters each take 24-hour shifts. One team starts on Saturday morning at eight a.m. to Sunday eight a.m. The second team goes from eight a.m. on Sunday to Monday morning. They also work during any school breaks.
For students to be become firefighters, they must accomplish training courses to obtain licenses and certifications. Doña Ana Community College provides a Fire Science program that allows students to learn what is required. After the course they are qualified to obtain Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) licensure.
Once they are licensed they are allowed to continue their training in the fire department, such as: firefighter I training, driver training, rope rescue, technical training, and much more as the student progresses in the program. Ride-along and medical assistance are also parts of their training.
Aside from all of the required training, these students are also studying for classes and completing homework.
Lieutenant Patrick Armijo has been with the department for two and a half years and has gained a lot of experience. His major had been accounting but once the department was hiring, he applied and has changed his mind on what he wants to do for his career.
“It’s been a good experience. I have learned a lot. I want to do this after I graduate,” says Armijo.
Armijo shared one of his most memorable calls: an injured hiker was stuck up in the Organ Mountains and Armijo was able to witness and participate in the rescuing.
“It’s a long process and it’s the most technically advanced call I have gotten here,” he says.
Armijo plans to apply to the Albuquerque Fire Department when he graduates spring 2016.
Angelo Pacheco, an applied studies major with a minor in geography, volunteered for the program after attending DACC for their Fire Science Program. He recalls one particular call that left him interested in making firefighting his career.
“A kid got ran over,” he says. “I didn’t like the call but I liked the way everyone worked together–our department and the multiple county departments, ambulance, and helicopter. To see the whole process from the beginning incident to us arriving to the scene, ambulance, helicopter, it was great to see,” says Pacheco.
He also plans on joining the Albuquerque Fire Department when he graduates.
Another firefighter, Guillermo Placencio, described his experience as career changing.
“I had no intention to be a firefighter because of my degree in criminal justice,” he says, adding he had initially wanted to be a police officer.
Now, though, he is committed to being a full-time firefighter.
Placencio’s most memorable call included a man whose heart had stopped. The NMSU Fire Department was the first to arrive on scene.
“From what we learned from EMT classes, we brought him back. It’s intimidating but the skills you learn make it worth it,” says Placencio.
One incident that the student firefighters remember the most is when Jett Hall had a fire. The NMSU Fire Department was dispatched around three a.m. They saw smoke coming from inside the building and went in to investigate. Firefighters outside were radioed to bring the fire hose in to spray the room that was on fire. After the incident, they found the cause of the fire was an electrical problem.
The student firefighters have responded to number of false alarms through the years, such as at Garcia Hall, yet they say they still respond to all calls seriously.
NMSU Fire Department is currently hiring for anyone who is interested in volunteer service or who are pursuing a firefighter career. No qualifications are needed but to work well with a team. There’s a high demand for physical training.
For more information visit the fire department’s website or contact 575-646-2519