Interim fire chief under fire

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Ever since former Sandoval County Fire Chief James Maxon retired, there have been grumblings over how much financial power interim Fire Chief Eric Masterson has.

Over the past three weeks, since Masterson requested streamlining the county-wide funding process, some county residents took it as the end of their fire security. In fact, two county residents spoke out against the request at last week’s county commission meeting.

Many of the comments pointed a lot of fingers in Masterson’s direction.

He requested that he be able to fund requests from fire stations around the county directly, rather than being forced to hold a meeting with all of the volunteer fire chiefs to discuss whether he should send money for a station to get, say, a new hose or personal protective equipment.

First off, the Observer stands behind Masterson as our county’s interim chief. He knows his stuff.

Second, after hearing Masterson’s reasoning behind this request, it made a lot of sense. Even the former Rio Rancho Fire Rescue chief, Commissioner Michael Meek, backed up Masterson, explaining that in a paramilitary organization, streamlining funding is key.

Third, it’s impossible to keep everyone in the county happy. We understand, being that we are in the newspaper business and get plenty of complaints.

However, it is important to understand the facts before pointing fingers.

One concern a resident from the east side of the mountain brought up was the rumor that their volunteer fire department would be shut down. This impassioned comment had Masterson’s name written all over it.

Another resident from the same neighborhood talked about Masterson having all the financial power and how dangerous that may be for her area.

When it was Masterson’s turn to address the commission, he politely but effectively put these rumors to bed. He explained that he did not have the authority to shut down a fire station without going through the county manager, county commission and talks with said area where the station might be closed.

On the discussion of finances, Masterson explained that each area has an allotment of funds and if the proper paperwork is filled out, then those funds will be released to the fire station. The legislature determines which fire station gets how much money, and state law already forbids taking one station’s money and giving it to other.

The Observer also applauds the commission for its patience, transparency and foresight to unanimously approve Masterson’s request. Why should firefighters have to wait for a meeting to get something they need?

It takes a lot of courage to make changes, especially when you are the newest person in the position.

Yet, it is obvious that Masterson is passionate about his job and has done his homework when it comes to our safety as county residents. It is never easy to sit in the hot seat when you already know there are fingers being pointed at you.

We should take the time to consider what it is that is at stake instead of how things used to be.