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In crisis, retired officer couple goes back to work

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For many, New Year’s Eve is about making resolutions, celebrating and looking forward to a fresh start.

For retired Bernalillo County Undersheriff Ronald Paiz and his wife, Beth, a retired Albuquerque Police Department deputy chief, it turned into a refresher course in public service.

Ronald Paiz said the couple was on the way home around 9:30 p.m. when they stumbled upon a house fire in the 6300 block of Cuesta NW.

On the porch they could see 26-year-old David Fay, mere feet from the encroaching flames.

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After calling police, Paiz said his wife went to warn neighbors while he ran to get Fay, who fought and resisted, out of harm’s way.

“I didn’t have time to debate it or bicker with him – it was getting too hot,” Paiz said. “The flames alone could’ve cooked him.”

So Paiz grabbed Fay by both legs, dragging him down the concrete steps and away from the home.

Paiz, who also served 20 years with APD before becoming undersheriff, said the couple’s training kicked in immediately when they saw the home.

“It never really ever leaves you,” he said. “Our whole job was about protecting life and property.”

Paiz said fire crews arrived soon after and were able to save other homes from going up in flames.

Paiz said his 13-year-old son, who was in the car the whole time, now wants to be a firefighter after watching the men fight a fire close up.

“He said, ‘Dad, I want to be a fireman,’ ” Paiz said. “That touched me, that they had that impact on him.”

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Although nobody was seriously injured in the fire, the home was totally destroyed.

“I can’t believe it,” homeowner Linda Fay told the Journal two days later. “I feel like I’m frozen and thawing out.”

Fay, who has lived in the home for 17 years, said the fire started when her son David shot off a bottle rocket that landed in some pine needles beside the house.

“I guess it got away from him,” she said. “I hate bottle rockets.”

Although Fay said she is thankful to Paiz for saving her son from being badly injured or killed, the sentimental loss is devastating.

Along with the family dog, a 10-year-old Australian shepherd mix named “Ozzie,” the fire claimed countless sentimental items, family heirlooms and pictures of relatives long gone with no copies or negatives to replace them.

Paiz said he was glad to find out the next day that nobody else was hurt in the fire.

“Bottom line, that’s what’s important,” he said. “The house can be replaced, property can be replaced, people can’t.”

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