BELEN — Belen Fire Chief Bret Ruff resigned from his position on Friday, May 21, saying he wished things had turned out differently.
Ruff had been placed on paid administrative leave on March 29 when city officials became aware that he didn’t have a current New Mexico EMT license. Ruff, who was appointed to the position in February 2019, said he had been working with the state of Nevada to transfer his license but the process had never been completed.
“Part of my contract when I got hired (with the city of Belen) was that I was going to have six months to get EMT licensure transferred,” Ruff said in a telephone interview with the News-Bulletin on Friday. “It was taking longer to get it transferred from Nevada. While trying to rebuild the (Belen Fire) department, I put it on the back burner and it got overlooked.”
When city officials realized Ruff didn’t have a valid EMT license in New Mexico, they placed him on paid administrative leave. Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said because Ruff hadn’t been able to transfer the license, they gave him the option to resign.
Ruff said since he had been placed on leave, he had been working with the state of Nevada, but described the process as “rather difficult.”
“Through the transition and working with New Mexico to get my license, Nevada wanted me to take the national EMT test, which I did,” Ruff said. “I’m still in process of getting the reciprocity.”
Ruff said he decided to resign as fire chief because he was in breach of his contract.
Ruff said he’s not sure what he’ll do next, but since he was placed on leave, he and his family have moved from Los Lunas to Albuquerque. He does know there are fire chief positions available with the Valencia County Fire Department and Rio Grande Estates Fire Department, but isn’t sure he wants to apply.
“I do have a lot of environmental, safety and health background … maybe something in emergency management,” Ruff said.
What Ruff is sure of is his affection for the Hub City and its people.
“It was a pleasure to serve them,” he said. “They made me feel at home. Regrettably, I just had to make a decision and move forward.”
Cordova said he hoped for a different outcome, but says the city now has to move forward.
“I’m sad about it; I think he was a really good chief for our fire department,” Cordova said of Ruff. “I wish we could have resolved the issues, but that’s how it goes.”
Since Ruff was put on paid administrative leave, the department’s assistant chief, Nathan Godfrey has been acting chief, but is soon ready to retire, the mayor said. The position of fire chief has already been posted, Cordova said.
“Hopefully, we’ll have some good applicants,” Cordova said of the appointed position. “We need someone with a background in fire service and EMS. Valencia County is really unique in that we don’t have a hospital, and have a great need for medical care. We’re very dependant on EMS service … most calls for service are EMS related, and it just keeps on growing.”
Cordova said he hopes the next chief will be community-oriented, a leader and someone who is willing and able to reach out to the community.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.