Chasing The Best - Santa Fe's Fire Department

Photos & Text by C. Whitney-Ward
When I was a kid I loved playing cowboys and Indians and always wanted to be the Indian. But every boy that I knew wanted to be a fireman.  And even before 911 there was always a bit of awe and mystique about being a firefighter. So, I contacted Santa Fe Fire Chief, Barbara Salas, told her that I wanted to do a photo essay on the Santa Fe Fire Department, and she said yes.

She assigned Battalion Chief, Paul Babcock to take me around for a few hours in a snazzy red van and he was a font of knowledge and very patient while I snapped away.

First stop was a wrecking yard where hands-on, First Response Heavy Rescue training takes place.  A volunteer victim was buckled into a wrecked car and firefighters from Station 8 went through extraction training replete with crowbars and the jaws of life.

All geared-up. These drills are taken seriously to keep skill levels high.

Paul asked if I was up for seeing a green fire truck -  It seems that when a fire rescue station was opened at the Santa Fe Airport, green was the designated truck color because of its visibility on the runway. Jason Arwood mans the station and  gave me  a tour of the lime green truck.

Trucks now-a-days are more automated with the aid of computers, says Jason, who turned on all the bells and whistles so I could take a shot.

Mounted on the front of the truck is this behemoth pump that shoots 750 gallons a minute of fire retardant foam  - a blast powerful enough to knock over a small plane, notes Jason.

And, sitting beside the truck are boots and gear at the ready.  How long does it take to suit up? Forty-six seconds is the record, says Jason. Apparently they've timed it.

In addition to his passion for firefighting, Jason is the department's unofficial historian and an accomplished artist. His vibrant work has wended its way onto department posters, invitations and t-shirts.


Next we were off to visit the new Santa Fe Fire Museum (the first in the state), located in the city's former Fire Station 3 on Cerrillos Road. A nifty vintage black fire truck is parked out back that will be retrofitted as a hearse to use for special funerals. The truck was the last fire truck to be purchased from the American La France Truck Company - circa 1918 - 1981, and is dedicated to the heroes of 911.

The Museum - which can be booked for private tours - is filled with memorabilia of Santa Fe's rich fire fighting history. There's a cart that was pulled by hand in the early part of the 19th century -  a shot was fired to help firefighters find the right location. A timeline of uniforms runs along one wall and a circa 1934 pumper truck - used now in parades and ceremonies - takes  pride of place.

The Santa Fe Fire Department was established in 1880 and was run as a volunteer organization for its first 100 years, with the exception of  Felix Wheeler, who was hired in 1915 as the first employee.  In 1987  the department became a fully- paid operation  and there are now 139 commissioned firefighter/medics serving 6 fire stations, strategically place around the city. 

 Feedbag for fire horse
The museum is a treasure trove of historic photographs and artifacts that tell the story of the Santa Fe Fire Department and its heroes. Retired firefighters unearthed many of the museum's pieces and the interior of the space was built by firefighters donating there expertise and time.

An early safety net...

Gear donated by a NY family of a 911 first responder.

First known fire station on Palace & Lincoln streets - circa 1898

Last stop...Fire Station Headquarters where the only remaning brass fire pole brings back a bit of nostalgia. It seems that nowadays
firefighters take to the stairs.
Thanks Chief Salas, you have a great crew!

200 Murales Road - Santa Fe, NM

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