Gallegos climbs the ladder from pipeman to fire chief

Gene Gallegos, pictured at the Fire Academy Museum, was recently confirmed as Albuquerque Fire Chief by Albuquerque City Council. Gallegos has been with the department since 2000, but his urban career actually started in the graduate affairs department as a dishwasher at the senior center at Los Volcanes. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Journal)

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Albuquerque’s new Fire Chief has risen steadily through the department’s ranks over the past 21 years – from pipeman to driver, lieutenant, captain, battalion commander and fire marshal, with some paramedic and dispatch duties in course.

But Gene Gallegos’ career in public service actually began far from the lights and sirens of emergency calls. Shortly after graduating from West Mesa High School and enrolling in what was then TVI, he accepted his first job in town doing the dishes at Los Volcanes Senior Center.

He spent around three years at the center, moving on to a breakfast chef and ultimately a position that allowed him to lead fishing and hiking trips for seniors and help develop other interactive programs. .

Gallegos, whose father had been a civilian employee at Albuquerque Fire Rescue, bided his time until he reached the department’s firefighter age, which was then 21. private life.

Most of all, he said, he learned the importance of seizing the moment.

“It was a very good experience and a very humbling experience to listen to their stories, to make sure that I don’t turn down opportunities or pass up opportunities,” Gallegos said in a recent interview in a quarter. administrative conference room at the city’s firefighting academy.

With that in mind, Gallegos, 43, said he knew better than to turn down the 2018 offer to serve as the city’s fire marshal.

Gene Gallegos has over 20 years of experience with Albuquerque Fire Rescue. He was appointed fire chief by Mayor Tim Keller in November.

But he couldn’t know then how the position would ultimately increase his public profile. With the onset of the pandemic, the Fire Marshal’s Office has been fully engaged in the city’s public health order enforcement effort, and Gallegos has become a frequent presence at COVID- press briefings. 19 from Mayor Tim Keller.

“I enlisted to be the face of public education and do our best to keep everyone safe,” Gallegos said.

Under Gallegos’ leadership, Keller said, the Office of the Fire Marshal has played an “instrumental” educational and enforcement role during the ever-evolving pandemic.

“Their support and flexibility has helped us keep our community safe and informed,” Keller said in a statement. “(Gallegos’ experience and dedication to supporting our people and our city over his more than 20 years with AFR is exactly what we need in a leader in public safety. “

When Paul Dow – fire chief since 2018 – retired in April, Keller chose Gallegos as his interim replacement. Last month, the mayor appointed Gallegos to the post on a permanent basis. City council confirmed this at its Dec. 20 meeting as Albuquerque COO Lawrence Rael and some councilors sang its praises.

“I know he will make us all proud because of his work ethic and the kind of person he is,” Rael said before the vote.

Gallegos, who has spent much of his AFR career working at stations in East Central, said his goals as a department head include increasing the number of units in Southeast Albuquerque. , where the call volume is highest. He also wants to recruit more paramedics – 88% of AFR calls go to emergency medical services – or train more existing firefighters in paramedic training. Gallegos said paramedics are prone to burnout, which he hopes to combat by giving them more flexibility to change assignments within the department.

Gallegos also said he looks forward to guiding the next generation of firefighters, comparing himself to a father hoping his children will be even more successful than he is.

“I have members and future leaders in this department that I’m so excited to see what they can do. … The future of this department is bright, ”he said.

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