Rio Rancho firefighter Adam Archuleta installs a Red Cross smoke detector in a home in Northern Meadows in early June.
(Courtesy photo)

From installing infant car seats to preventing falls for senior citizens, Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue Department is expanding efforts to keep emergencies from happening or assist in recovering after them.

“As firefighters, we enjoy helping the community and responding to emergencies,” said Acting Fire Chief James DeFillippo. “… But if we can prevent emergencies from happening in the first place, we’ve really done our job.”

RRFR leaders hope to add a full-time community risk-reduction position in the future, he said. The risk-reduction employee would do such things as fall-prevention education and risk assessments, as well as making sure people had working smoke detectors and properly installed child-safety seats in cars.

Of all emergency medical calls in Rio Rancho, said fire Lt. Jessica Duron-Martinez, 12 percent are related to falls. That’s why fall prevention would be a focus for the risk-reduction position.

DeFillippo’s not sure when the position will be created because staffing another fire station is a higher priority. Until then, everyone in the department will work on decreasing risks as best they can, he said.

Duron-Martinez said the amount of people reached in risk-reduction efforts factors into a fire department’s ISO rating. That rating gauges the department’s ability to respond to emergencies, and affects home insurance prices.

RRFR has a rating of 2, with 1 being the highest. Departments are re-rated every four years.

“We’re working toward the 1,” DeFillippo said.

The city needs more firefighters, stations and vehicles, plus community education, to reach the goal.

“We can touch all lives of the 104,000 residents (of Rio Rancho) through community risk reduction,” he said.

Recently, RRFR was one of several departments nationwide that participated in a pilot program in which statistics on calls for service were compiled to show the greatest needs of the community and areas to focus on to decrease risks.

Duron-Martinez said the department didn’t continue with the program because it would cost $1,000 a year and the city already has employees who could create the same compilation.

“But looking at this program, it shows us the needs in the department,” which are being incorporated into its five-year strategic plan, she said.

Rio Rancho firefighters already provide information and safety-related supplies at community events and teach 4,500 children fire prevention every October, making videos for students since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Car seat technicians

To further help children, RRFR is adding more car-seat technicians among its ranks. The department has had two firefighters trained and certified to help people correctly install car seats for their children since the early 2000s, said Battalion Chief Ryan Floersheim.

“The statistics are up to 70 percent of the child car seats in the country are installed incorrectly, and we’ve seen how devastating that can be,” he said.

People often drop by fire stations to get help installing a car seat for a soon-to-arrive baby, he continued. If technicians are available, they’re happy to help, but they’re not always there.

So, RRFR has gotten three more technicians certified to increase the chances of parents being able to get help when they stop by.

Smoke detector assistance
On another front, RRFR began participating in the Red Cross smoke detector program this year. Since January, firefighters have installed 10 new detectors for people financially unable to buy the devices or physically unable to put them up.

Floersheim said firefighters would often respond to calls of smoke detectors going off and discover the devices were chirping because they were too old and needed to be replaced. If the resident couldn’t replace the smoke detector, firefighters would be called out multiple times to silence the chirping device.

They sometimes bought replacement smoke detectors with their own money and installed them, but doing so came with liability concerns, he said. The Red Cross program pays for the smoke detectors and alleviates liability problems.

Fire recovery

Firefighters have started carrying “after the fire packets” with information to guide people through recovering from a home fire.

“It’s a step-by-step guide to go about rebuilding your life,” Floersheim said.

After a late-night house fire one winter, he said, the crew returned in the morning for a forgotten tool and found the family of five sleeping in their car. Asked why, the family members said they didn’t have anywhere else to go and were too embarrassed the prior night to admit they didn’t have home insurance.

To help people in similar situations, the department compiled informational folders. The paperwork includes contact information for assistance agencies, city ordinances regarding securing the burned residence, information about pets after fires and more.

As an under-girding piece of risk-reduction, Floersheim mentioned RRFR programs that strive to keep firefighters in good physical and mental health.

“That way, we can be sure all of our members are prepared to take on all these new programs we’re excited about,” he said.