Barbara Salas is the first woman to be appointed chief of the 130-year-old Santa Fe Fire Department. She previously broke similar ground as the first female fire marshal. Now that she’s the top dog at Fire Station No. 1, we asked Salas to give SFR her own list of No. 1s.
SFR: What’s the No. 1…
…factor in a ‘5-foot-short’ woman passing the rigorous firefighting exam and going on to become chief?
BS: Determination. I just wanted to become a firefighter so bad. As far as becoming chief, Mayor [David] Coss felt that I was capable and he put me in the job.
…reason there aren’t more women in the department?
The department is genderless. We are wholly based on capability. We have hard written, physical and psychological tests, and candidates have to excel at all of them. We run background checks and test for drugs. That said, when we work in the schools, we emphasize to all students that they are capable of achieving their dreams and that girls can be firefighters too.
…reason firefighters look like they keep in better shape than police officers?
We have weight equipment at every station and a fitness initiative. Our crews are allowed to workout for one hour of each 48-hour shift. We also get together at the beginning of each shift and plan the meals that we prepare and eat together. I don’t have a comment on the Police Department, but I know we benefit from having a home base and a good meal plan—the PD has to be on the move all the time and it’s a different lifestyle.
…type of call firefighters respond to?
We respond to all 911 calls. Last year we did over 12,000 medical calls, quite a bit more than fire calls. A lot of people don’t realize that every firefighter has some basic medical training and that we send a full truck if we might need more than the two people who arrive with an ambulance.
…concern regarding annexation?
Different people have different concerns about annexation and use of resources. Regardless of what happens or how it happens or when it happens, the Fire Department will be there, doing its job.
…reason for being afraid of a fire in the city’s watershed?
That it’s not a matter of if, but when. We need to maintain a good thinning and prevention program, and we need to be ready. We now have a dedicated wildland team that we are continuing to develop and we’re going to be bringing in ‘hot shots’ that specialize in containing such fires.
…thing to think about when dragging a 180-pound man from a burning building?
Personal safety. If the firefighter gets hurt, we could have two casualties to worry about and one less firefighter on the job.
…thing citizens could do differently that would make the department’s job easier?
Check smoke detectors monthly. Actually, install smoke detectors to begin with and then check them. Mandatory sprinkler systems in residential buildings would be a big help, but we need to see the cost come down first.
…reason we should open a public fire museum?
To educate the public about fire service history and the importance of fire safety, and to honor and promote pride and tradition within the community. It will be a great tool for educating kids. We put school classes in a simulated fire in our smoke trailer and the teachers start to panic, but the kids learn what to do.