Fire chief: Firefighters’ job varies

Alisa Boswell

Most Portales firefighters say their job is no life of glamour but they wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Preschool tours, car accidents, community events and fires are just a few of the daily and weekly activities which take up a Portales firefighters time.

“You can be playing with kids one minute and be on the scene of a horrible accident next,” said Portales Fire Chief Gary Nuckols. “A lot of the general public don’t know exactly what we do.”

Nuckols said when a person is a firefighter, a third of their life is spent at the fire station, making it another home.

Firefighters work 24-hour shifts then spend another 24 hours on call before getting a day off. Included in each 24-hour shift is a battalion chief, a lieutenant and a second lieutenant.

“It’s just a matter of backing things up,” said Battalion Chief Shannon Lee. “We just like seeing the community have the best emergency service possible.”

Lee said the lieutenant takes charge when the battalion chief is unavailable and the second lieutenant does the same for the lieutenant.

“We’re a tight knit bunch; we’re family,” said 2nd Lt. Darren Elrod. “Everybody has their bad days but when it comes down to it, we pull together and do what we need to do.”

Elrod said firefighters joke and jest a lot to relieve tension and stress which comes with the job.

After Tuesday morning truck checks, Elrod and other firefighters gave a tour of the fire station to preschool and toddler aged children before going out into the community for some public relations work for EMS Week. Portales firefighters also act as the EMTs, which means they get called out in ambulances and fire trucks.

Wednesday afternoon, there was a different atmosphere. The fire station became silent and still as firefighters responded to multiple car accidents around Portales.

Lee said being able to help people is what makes the stress and chaos of the job worthwhile for most firefighters.

“One of the main things that sets this job apart is the excitement you get when you’re able to help someone in a medical emergency or containing and minimizing fire damage,” Lee said. “That’s one of the biggest gratifications we get.”

Rick McNally, currently designated as “the rookie” by his co-workers, began his first day on the job Tuesday as he demonstrated to preschoolers how a firefighter suit works.

McNally said he had previously worked as a volunteer firefighter in Roswell. He decided to try for the full time position in Portales after hearing Roswell firefighters talk about it.

“I was excited,” he said about getting the job. “It’s not for the money; it’s to help people out.”

Nuckols said his part in the firefighting business is to make sure his firefighters have everything they need to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities.

He pays the bills, buys equipment and other necessary items, deals with personnel issues and much more.

“It’s hard to not respond to every call after doing it for so many years,” Nuckols said. “Knowing both sides of it, you can understand what their needs are and provide better for them. There’s a new challenge every day. That just goes with this business.”

Nuckols said along with activities for EMS Week, firefighters will also be appearing at the Adopt a Cop event Friday at Rotary Park and will also hold an open house Saturday for the community to come tour the fire station.