By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
There’s a family photo of Las Cruces Fire Chief Travis Brown, age three, sitting with his sister on an old fire truck in Las Cruces Fire Station 1. A couple of years later, when he was in kindergarten at East Picacho Elementary School, Brown told a teacher’s aide he wanted to become either a firefighter or a police officer when he grew up.
And, when Brown did join the Las Cruces Fire Department (LCFD) in July 1989, he told a fellow cadet at the training academy that he “definitely would like to become a fire captain (the equivalent of today’s battalion chief), and if I make it there, then maybe chief someday.”
That dream came true in May 2010 when Brown was named Las Cruces fire chief, after more than 20 years of service with the department as a cadet, trainee, firefighter, fire investigator, academy coordinator, fire lieutenant, youth violence coordinator, battalion chief, deputy chief and interim chief.
Brown will retire this month at age 49, after nearly 27 years with LCFD.
‘We are a busy system’
Brown has seen many changes at the department in almost three decades. LCFD was opening Fire Station 5 about the time Brown signed on, and there were 75 to 80 department personnel at that time, he said. Today, LCFD has seven stations across the city and is building an eighth as part of the East Mesa Public Safety Complex, and there are 147 sworn personnel, Brown said.
Each station has a fire truck, two stations also have ladder trucks and there is one command vehicle, he said. The number of paramedics has grown from six when Brown became chief to 31 today.
“We are a busy system,” Brown said.
LCFD logged 15,950 calls – and 16,764 total emergency and non-emergency responses – in FY 2015, according to its 2014-2015 Report to the Community. That compares to 14,733 calls in FY 2014, 14,262 in FY 2013 and 16,083 in FY 2012.
Within five minutes
Only about 3 percent of calls are for actual fires, Brown said. About three-quarters are for medical emergencies. There are also calls for public assistance and occasional false alarms and good-intention calls. Those numbers, he said, are fairly typical for fires departments nationally.
Of the fires responded to last year, 39 percent were structure fires, 21 percent were rubbish fires, 17 percent were brush/wildland fires and 13 percent were vehicle fires, the report said.
Fire Station 1 at 201 E. Picacho Ave. – where the chief’s office is located – had the largest number of calls, with 4,327, the report said. Fire Station 2, 1199 E. Foster Road, was second, with nearly 3,500 calls.
During FY 2015, fire trucks arrived at fire calls within five minutes, 63 percent of the time “for all calls requiring lights and sirens,” the report said, which was a 10.5 percent improvement over the previous year. The department was “also able to provide advanced life support for emergency calls 90 percent of the time in less than eight minutes,” the report said.
‘Beam with pride’
LCFD also can provide ambulance transportation when local providers are delayed or there is a system overload, Brown said. And, emergency medical technicians can hook up EKG machines to a patient at the scene of an emergency and send readings to emergency-room doctors so they can decide the level of care the patient requires even before he or she gets to the hospital, Brown said.
“The technology that is out there is definitely allowing us to provide a very different level of care,” he said.
“The thing that I am most proud of, especially as the chief, is the level of customer service our department provides, and the level of service on calls,” Brown said, noting that he receives many emails and visits from people thanking firefighters for the work they do.
“Some of the stories people share with me about what our firefighters do just really make me beam with pride,” Brown said. Las Cruces firefighters are “willing to give of themselves for the good of others,” he said. “We care about people.”
Setting the standard
A firefighter’s job is “to attack a fire” and provide other services to the community, Brown said. “It’s the way people do it that makes a difference.” As a young firefighter, he said, “people represented that, taught it to me, made me realize that’s an expectation of our department.”
“Regarding the retirement of Chief Brown, this is bittersweet, as I am happy for his retirement, but a huge void in the fire department,” said Mayor Ken Miyagishima. “Chief
Brown has taken his department to new heights. He is definitely head and shoulders regarding fire chiefs in the state of New Mexico. He will be missed immensely.”
“Chief Brown exemplifies the city’s values that include quality of service, recognizing residents as customers, demonstrating accountability, treating residents and employees fairly and equitably, and showing excellence and pride in his work,” City Manager Robert Garza said in a recent city report. “He embodies honesty and integrity, and strives for continuous improvement in all areas of service. He has set the standard by which future leaders of LCFD will be measured through his dedication, work ethic, and contributions.”
‘An amazing organization’
Another thing Brown is proud of is that LCFD has achieved a Class 1 fire safety rating, as determined by the Insurance Services Office, Inc. LCFD was the first fire department in the state to receive the top rating, which is based on how well the department scores on things like water distribution, fire equipment and manpower, and fire alarm and dispatch facilities, the department’s annual report said.
“We are such an amazing organization,” Brown said.
He also points with pride to the level of cooperation between the city’s fire and police departments. That relationship, Brown said, “is stronger than it’s ever been.”
Among the fires Brown remembers during his service is the Las Cruces Public Schools administration building fire in the early 1990s, when he was a young firefighter. “That was a very large fire in our community,” Brown said. It was also unusual because it took longer to control than most fires, he said.
“I have some memories and images that aren’t necessarily fond,” Brown said. “That is part of what also drives us to want to provide that exceptional level of care and pushes us to do more to help others, because of some of the things we’ve seen” and the desire to prevent them from happening again, he said.
As Brown begins to think about retirement, he said he is “humbled to have had the opportunity to serve in this capacity, and thankful to people in the department and everyone who has ever worn the uniform of a Las Cruces firefighter.”
Brown also expressed his thanks to Las Cruces for “how I have been accepted by the community in this role, as well as the support that’s been provided to us over the years.”
He also said the families of the firefighters he works with deserve great thanks and appreciation, and his family is no exception. “They make sacrifices,” he said, and without them LCFD “wouldn’t be as strong.”
Brown said the time is right for him to retire. “I need to move on and more of the next generation can step up and take the fire department to the next level,” he said.
In retirement, Brown plans to spend time on the 14-acre family farm north of Las Cruces where he grew up and still lives with his family.
“I want to spend as much time as I can with my son over the course of his senior year,” Brown said. His son, Justus, will graduate from Las Cruces High School in 2017, and plans to enter the military.
Chief Brown has no plans to sign on with another fire department. “This is the only chief job I ever wanted,” he said. “This is my community. This is my department. There may be some bigger things out there, but there’s nothing better than this job.”
For more information, visit www.las-cruces.org/departments/fire-department.