|Angel Fire's Ford F-550 wildland rig equipped with an 8-foot, 6-inch commercial-grade snowplow clears the way. (Fire Apparatus Photo by JoAnne Lee)|
After five days of heavy snows in December 2008, Angel Fire (N.M.) Fire Department officials, motivated by memories of a valley immobilized under six to eight feet of snow, purchased a commercial plow and mounted it on their wildland fire truck.
Located at 8,500 feet in the mountains of Northern New Mexico, the Village of Angel Fire is a resort community that sees 50,000 to 80,000 visitors in the busy ski season. The city center is tucked into a deep valley with some residences above 10,000 feet.
With the power of the department's wildland rig - a Ford F-550 urban interface truck - pushing the plow, response times during heavy winter snows can be dramatically decreased.
Prior to the plow purchase, AFFD had to rely on the Village of Angel Fire's Streets Department and crews from Colfax County to clear roads. While the road crews were willing to aid with emergency situations, sometimes they were unable to respond immediately when needed. So fire officials decided to act.
"AFFD saw having a plow as a major requirement to helping our customers in their time of need," said Chief Orlando Sandoval. "We came to the realization that our local and county road crews weren't always able to help or to have the roads cleared during snow events."
The catalyst for buying the snowplow was a 911 emergency medical call in the winter of 2008. With nearly a foot and a half of snow covering the roads, Sandoval said, AFFD had to wait for road crews to reach the scene. Fortunately, the emergency was not as serious as it first appeared. But if it had been a life-threatening situation, he noted, valuable time, as well as a life, could have been lost.
The decision was made shortly after that call to purchase a plow. While researching the subject, Sandoval said he and his full-time staff of six were amazed to discover that they were breaking new ground.
"We called around to other departments and did Internet searches and could find no other companies that had done this," he said. "Some departments run plows, but none mounted on a fire truck."
Turning to local plowing experts, Sandoval worked with members of the Streets Department to develop specifications. With the road crew's support and encouragement, AFFD's new "fire plow" - an 8-foot, 6-inch Western commercial-grade plow - was purchased in early 2009.
Since that time, Sandoval said the converted wildland truck has been used many times to clear snow from highways, roads and driveways while the department was responding to medical and fire calls.
In addition, he said, "Sometimes, if the city is behind on plowing, they'll call us and ask us to help." But primarily, he said, the wildland fire plow is used for emergencies.
"It's nice to know the fire department is self-sufficient because we can't always be where they need us during an emergency," said Monty Apodaca, the village streets supervisor.
"The road crews do a great job clearing our streets for us," Sandoval said, "but they can't always respond to our emergency needs in the amount of time that a heart attack victim or a burning structure requires."
Editor's note: JoAnne Lee is a volunteer firefighter/EMT with the Angel Fire Fire Department.