BELEN—For a quarter of a century, Nathan Godfrey has protected his community while giving his all to the city he has lived in his entire life.
Godfrey, the assistant fire chief at the Belen Fire Department, was celebrated on Thursday, July 2, for his 25 years of service and dedication — 20 years as a paid member of the department, plus five years as a volunteer. There was cake, a brief pinning ceremony and lots of congratulations and thank yous.
For Godfrey, who has been assistant chief for 16 years, he didn’t realize he wanted to be a firefighter and emergency medical technician until he was already in it. He began as a volunteer at BFD as a teenager.
“Growing up, my best friend’s grandpa was a volunteer here, and after he passed away, me and my best friend joined the department,” Godfrey remembers. “It was just something to do.”
He says after going on a couple of calls, he was hooked. It was the excitement and the thought he could help people was what made him fall in love with the fire service.
While initially volunteering for the fire department, Godfrey had a few jobs, from working at an auto parts store, the flour mill and even with the forest service. He was working for Mesa Oil when he was hired full-time with the Belen Fire Department.
As both a firefighter and EMT-Basic, he said he enjoys both sides of the service, but likes firefighting a little more.
“I really love doing what I do,” he said. “I like firefighting a lot more because I like fighting fires, and it’s a lot more exciting. But you’re there to help someone when their house is burning, and it’s devastating. When we show up, you see that sense of relief on their faces.”
As an EMT, he and others respond to more medical calls than anything. He says being able to help someone who is ill or injured is also gratifying.
“There’s something satisfying about helping someone in their time of need,” Godfrey says. “You have to have the ability to distance yourself emotionally, concentrate on the task at hand and help your patient.”
In his 25 years with the department, he’s seen a lot of people come and go — some have left to pursue a career at another department while others can’t seem to handle the stress.
“You have to be self-motivated, have a sense of pride in what you’re doing, you have to have discipline and you have to have the heart to do this,” he said. “Some people come in and think it’s going to be fun, but they find out it’s not that — it can be emotionally demanding and draining.”
On any given day, Godfrey and his fellow firefighters and EMTs can be called to a tragic car crash, a structure fire or for a terminally-ill patient. He says some days are better than others.
“There’s a lot of things that will stick with you,” he says. “For me, when I have a bad day, I like to come home and watch one of those really stupid shows on TV just to keep my mind off it. Or I’ll just go fishing.”
As for Godfrey’s future, he plans on staying for two more years and then retire, find a part-time job with the forest service.
The native of Belen says he’s been honored to serve his hometown and that’s been one of the reasons he’s continued to serve at the fire department.
Godfrey also credits former fire chief Manny Garcia for giving him the opportunity at the fire department, saying who knows where he’d be if it weren’t for him.
“I’d also like to thank my wife (Alicia) for putting up with me for 16 years,” he said. “It takes a special kind of person to be married to a first responder — worrying if we’re going to come home every day.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.