By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Portales City Council gave their OK on a new joint powers agreement with the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department pertaining to reimbursement of wildland firefighting costs at Tuesday’s regular meeting. But it came on a split vote.
Portales Fire Department Chief Raul Muniz was present to make the request from the council and explained the state agency had recently informed fire departments across the state new JPAs would be sent out by year’s end and departments and municipalities not signing the new agreements would not be eligible for reimbursement for fighting wildland fires on state lands.
“This is our main instrument for compensation for responding to wildland fires,” Muniz said.
Muniz told the council about several new requirements under the new JPA, including having certified fire officers on hand with maintainers and other equipment not operated by firefighters. He also talked about a training addition that would require all firefighters to hold a red card certification, which requires a physical fitness test where the firefighter must carry a 45-pound pack three miles in 45 minutes.
That requirement had been a big area of contention with rural fire departments in meetings held in October with the state. Most rural departments felt many of their volunteers might not qualify.
Muniz said that 90 percent of the PFD personnel have already completed the red card requirements and the rest were expected to complete it before the agreement starts.
“I’d just like to say that what state forestry is doing here is over-kill,” City Councilor Mike Miller said. “They’re throwing the baby out with the bath water here, especially with respect to the rural departments.”
Miller, a former firefighter and PFD chief, told the mayor, council and Munizhe was respectfully going to vote against the resolution ratifying the ordinance to make a statement.
The council voted to pass the resolution 6-1.
Rural departments were still in a quandary over how they would handle the problem.
“We have not really resolved anything,” Elida Fire Chief Adam Anthony said. “Some people have enough training to qualify to take the pack test.”
He said that he is working on getting others in the department the training, but said he doesn’t know when that might happen.
“There is not much we can do, just gotta roll with the flow,” he said.
Floyd Fire Chief Leland Terry said Floyd has not signed any agreements with the state yet. He said they were supposed to get a 60-day notice of the current agreement being canceled and that letter has not been received.
“There won’t be any changes until after the first of the year,” Terry said.
PNT staff writer Casey Peacock contributed to this report.