New fire protection gear to be purchased for road department

Alisa Boswell

The Roosevelt County Road Department will soon be fighting fires in new personal protection gear.

The Roosevelt County Commission recently approved funding to purchase 15 wildland suits at about $325 a piece.

“These guys go out there and they’re very critical to helping with grass fires, and they’re not very well protected,” Roosevelt County Manager Charlene Webb said. “We feel we need to do whatever we can to help protect them. It’s long overdue.”

Webb said Commissioner Kendell Buzard took the initiative to help obtain the new equipment, working closely with Portales firefighter Lt. Steven Cain to find the right equipment for road workers.

“They don’t offer good enough protection for what we’re doing,” Fire Chief Gary Nuckols said of the wildland suits, which are no longer used by firefighters. “But for the county and road department, that’s really gonna help protect them much better than they were in the past.”

The county’s road department has been helping fight fires for a long time, according to Road Department Superintendent Ricky Lovato.

“These guys have been doing it over 20 years, so they just know what to do now,” Lovato said of road department employees. “All these guys have years and years experience and I learned from them, so it wasn’t intimidating at all (going into it).”

Lovato said the standard protocol when going out to a fire is for one to two road graders to be with one fire truck.

“We always enter the fire way ahead of it, so we’re not putting anyone in danger,” Lovato said. “We always try to get ahead of it quite a bit, so we don’t get ourselves in trouble. But when the wind’s blowing and the grass is really thick, there’s not a whole lot you can do but just head it off.”

Lovato said the danger for road department crews is when a grader stalls because it becomes overheated while at a fire site. He said there are times when road department members have to exit the grader to get further away from the fire, placing them within range of flying embers and high levels of heat.

“Preferably you pull out and get away from the fire, but if it stalls out because it’s overheated, you have to get out near the fire,” Lovato said. “Before they leave the job site to go to a fire, they make sure everything’s in order with the graders. Now that we’re going to receive this brush fire apparel, it will be a policy for them to put them on before they leave to a fire.”

Nuckols said the road department has been vital to helping with fighting fires, especially in times of drought.

“Every time we call them, they’re always there,” Nuckols said. “We couldn’t do our job as effectively without them. We really appreciate what they do.”