On July 26, interim chief Lawrence Baca was officially named chief of the City of Socorro Fire Department.
Baca started with SFD as a firefighter more than 24 years ago and was one of the three captains when he was named interim chief in June.
“I think that is probably everyone’s goal within the fire service is that you always want to move up,” Baca said. “I think being chief, leading a group of guys, is just something that is really important and I think I can do a pretty good job of doing that.”
Baca said he wants to continue to lead by example as that is something he has done since he began with SFD.
“I would never ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do,” Baca said. “I think I’ve done that for the 24 and a half years I’ve been here. I’ve just held that as one of the standards, me leading the department being the chief or not. I’ve always said that I want to leave this department one day when I retire knowing that the guys think highly of me and respect me.”
Part of being the chief involves doing the budget, managing personnel and keeping up the morale of the firefighters.
“You’re the leader of a department and a very important department within the city,” Baca said. “What we provide for the community, the City of Socorro, Socorro County, there is a lot that comes with it. You are dealing with a lot of different things… just everything and anything that comes within the fire department and fire service. It’s a very important role.”
Being the leader, Baca said one of his goals is to work on keeping firefighters at the department.
“When I first started, we were never hiring. Now, it seems like the last 10 years or so we are always hiring,” he said. “It’s hard to compete with surrounding areas when it comes to certain things within the fire service. We just like to hopefully get better and get some quality people in here and keep them here.”
Baca said it’s hard to compete with other departments because they are in bigger cities and can pay more.
From when Baca started as a firefighter to now, he said the pay has gotten better over the years. Baca said he would like to be able to pay the firefighters more, but understands that SFD is also a business and has to stay within its budget.
The Socorro Fire Department is currently hiring for two firefighter/EMT positions, which includes getting the recruits trained and their certifications.
Baca said that maybe in the future SFD starts using contracts for recruits where if the City of Socorro pays for their certifications and training then the recruit has to work for SFD for x amount of years.
He would also like to see SFD continue to have a strong relationship with the community.
Over the years, the department has helped with functions for the City of Socorro, Socorro County and the schools.
Baca said how public service is a big part of being a firefighter and EMT and that it is one of the most rewarding parts of their job.
“Anything we can do to be out there and do positive things and be involved in whatever it is the community needs us to do we will do it,” he said. “We have done a good job of that. We’ve stayed involved… We are always doing stuff and just continue to keep working with the community and letting them know that they are in good hands.”
During his time as a firefighter, Baca was able to work under two different chiefs with the most recent being Joe Gonzales.’
Over the years of working with Gonzales, Baca said he learned how to be accountable, to be on top of things, to take care of what is important and to keep everyone’s attitudes positive.
“I know that at any time, even when he is gone, that he is just a phone call away and if I ever need help,” Baca said. “Just learning how he did things and seeing how he got the department to get better. Just things like that and working side by side with him and him teaching me the ropes and everything that I need to know to continue to keep this department on the right path.”
Prior to becoming interim chief in June, Baca would work with Gonzales at the firehouse to start to learn the ropes. He also worked with Gonzales at vaccine clinics to learn how Gonzales would run it to make it a successful event.
Since retiring from SFD, Gonzales still comes into the firehouse multiple times a week to continue to teach Baca what he needs to know to be a successful chief.
“I’ve learned anything and everything from him,” Baca said. “Working side-by-side with him for budgets, grant writing, what needs to be done on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, monthly basis, annual basis. There is a lot to it and there is a lot more to learn that I don’t really realize yet.”
Baca said he has seen how Gonzales has made SFD a successful department and wants to make sure that continues.
“I want to see this department succeed just like Chief Gonzales does and has,” he said. “I think we are in the right direction. We have a good department. I give all the credit in the world to the guys that are under me. We have a great group of guys.”