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LAS CRUCES FIRE DEPARTMENT

As with last year’s asylum seekers, fire department steps up during COVID

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As 2019’s influx of asylum seekers and this year’s pandemic clearly demonstrate, the work of the Las Cruces Fire Department (LCFD) goes far above and way beyond fighting fires.

“I am honored and impressed to see how LCFD continues to rise up to the most complex situations and provide critical services to our community within Las Cruces and throughout our region,” said Interim City Manager David Maestas.

Last spring, LCFD Battalion Chief Mike Daniels was temporarily reassigned to the joint City of Las Cruces-Doña Ana County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) as the city provided humanitarian aid to more than 17,000 asylum seekers brought to Las Cruces by the U.S. Border Patrol.

That work with OEM has continued in the current public health emergency, as LCFD has “undertaken a key role … to assure adequate safety measures are being acquired, provided to our community, and services completed (such as COVID testing), in a timely manner to assist with the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens with a priority on our vulnerable populations,” Maestas said.

Those vulnerable populations include more than 40 high-risk seniors in Las Cruces that LCFD has assisted throughout the pandemic, coordinating with local church volunteers to provide regular welfare checks by phone, and providing needs assessments and case management, said LCFD Mobile Integrated Health Coordinator Paul Ford. LCFD also has coordinated about 150 third-party connections to transport the seniors to and from doctors’ appointments and make sure they have food, prescriptions and other necessities.

LCFD has also served as local liaison for COVID testing with the New Mexico Department of Health, said Battalion Chief Shane Mouchette. About a dozen firefighters have been assigned to conduct COVID tests and work at local test sites.

The fire department also is in charge of coordinating delivery of personal protective equipment to all city staff. Firefighters have distributed more than 10,000 face coverings to the public during the pandemic, built 1,000 sanitation kits that were delivered to Mesilla Valley Community of Hope and streamlined medical-supply orders to keep LCFD units available for emergency calls, Daniels said.

LCFD has worked with local businesses to help them comply with the state’s emergency health orders since the pandemic began, said Deputy Chief Adrian Arias.

“People were scared” and relied on LCFD for “a lot of help and assistance,” Arias said, and that has meant many hours answering phone calls and emails from business owners and managers.

LCFD also had to figure out the best way to comply with social distancing and other health requirements within the department to keep its 177 firefighters and their families safe, said Arias, who has been with LCFD for 20 years, including a decade as a fire investigator. “We still came to work every day,” he said. And, within less than two weeks from the onset of COVID-19, LCFD was able to move training and testing online and transition its office staff to working from home.

The department also took advantage of the shutdown caused by the pandemic to conduct annual fire inspections at empty schools and some businesses, Arias said. And, while LCFD has greatly missed children and community members paying visits to the fire station and firefighters visiting schools since md-March, it’s doing birthday fire truck drive-bys and reaching out on social media.

And that’s all in addition to the more than 15,000 EMS calls and the fire calls the department receives each year.

The community has expressed its gratitude to firefighters throughout, said Deputy Chief Jason Smith, as many restaurants have provided meals to firefighters. “Our businesses really came through for us,” said Smith, who has been with LCFD for nearly 18 years and recently returned to full LCFD duty after a temporary assignment to OEM’s COVID-19 management team, where he helped develop coordinated management plans with the state and county to protect the area’s most vulnerable population, including the elderly, those in assisted living facilities and the homeless, as well as first responders. Smith has also helped review and refine the local pandemic response, so the community is prepared to deal with a possible COVID resurgence and with other threats, he said.

LCFD “tries to find a way to do more, not less, for this community,” Fire Chief Eric Enriquez said. “I’m so proud of this department and what we’ve done,” said Enriquez, who became chief in May 2016. “We stepped up.”

“LCFD is the best,” Mayor Ken Miyagishima said. “We are so fortunate to have such an incredible group of trained professionals protecting our residents 24/7/365. I want them to know that the City of Las Cruces admires them and appreciates them and their families as they put themselves at great risk daily, while protecting us.”

Las Cruces woman filled with gratitude for EMTs who saved her life

A little more than two months after suffering a stroke, Beverly Nelson is fully recovered – and full of gratitude for the care she received from Las Cruces Fire Department EMTs.

“They saved my life,” Nelson, 75, said in a June 29 interview. “When I think about it now, I am so grateful.”

Nelson was in her north Las Cruces home the night of April 27 when she realized something was wrong. The weakness she experienced on her left side caused her to fall in her living room.

“The only thing I remember is groping for the phone on the floor,” Nelson said.

Even though she can’t remember it, Nelson was able to call 9-1-1. The fire department was alerted and EMTs found her unconscious on the floor and transported her to Mountainview Regional Medical Center (MVRMC).

“The EMTs did such a good job,” she said.

The next thing Nelson remembers is waking up in the hospital two and one-half days later. Soon after, she was transported to Wellbrook Transitional Rehabilitation Center, where she spent several weeks before returning home.

Nelson had high praise for MVRMC and Wellbrook, and also for From the Heart Animal Rescue (FHAR), which took her two dogs, Mindy and Allie, into care during her recovery.

“There’s a lot of points that this hits on,” Nelson said about the care and compassion she and her dogs have received.

Allie was in her crate for the night when Nelson had the stroke, but Mindy was loose in the house and found Nelson on the floor and was very traumatized because she could not wake her owner up, Nelson said. Because Mindy, a Chihuahua mix who is about 10 years old, became so protective of Nelson, FHAR is finding a new home for Allie in El Paso.

“Mindy is my shadow because she will not leave my sight,” Nelson said.

Like Nelson, Mindy is no stranger to medical care. Her spleen was removed at Crossroads Animal Hospital in El Paso after she was attacked by a larger dog. Both she and Allie are rescues.

This was Nelson’s second stroke. The first was five years ago. She had a burst appendix in 2009 and also has had a hip replacement.

“This is why I am so grateful that I have everything back,” Nelson said. Other than a little weakness on the left side when she’s tired, Nelson has fully recovered from her stroke.

“I feel wonderful,” she said.

Nelson has three adult children living in the Denver area, but no family in Las Cruces. She said she’s learned the lesson from her stroke and has a medical alert button and DNR instructions posted in her house and has given house keys to several close friends.

“The things that happened to me, each one of them should have taken my life,” she said. “My job’s not done. I’ve been given the greatest gift, and I am grateful. This is our lesson because we all have a responsibility to love and protect each other.”