BELEN — Eleven years after he walked into the Belen Fire Department to turn in his application to be a volunteer firefighter, the Belen City Council unanimously approved Mayor Robert Noblin’s appointment of Charles Cox as fire chief.
Noblin, who nominated Cox for the role, said he wanted to take a different approach in choosing a new fire chief. The mayor met with members of the fire department, and said they all agreed it would be better to promote from within.
“Their sentiments were that the department believes that the present staffing command structure should remain in effect for two years to give opportunities to junior officers to gain valuable experience in the department’s command staff operations and allow them to complete their studies and certifications to meet the requirements needed to hold these positions,” Noblin said during Monday’s council meeting.
“In other words, we are beginning to look at promotions within our department rather than hiring outside chiefs,” he said. “I find that to be a great plan, and the entire department seemed to be in agreement with that plan.”
Noblin says when he met with the department’s command staff and firefighters, they had already drafted a plan to promote from within.
“They know their needs and what’s best for the department,” the mayor said. “Charles has served in many positions since he began, and he has a career that spans more than 50 years. It’s obvious to me that others in the department look up to him and trust Charles.”
Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photo
The Belen City Council unanimously approved Mayor Robert Noblin’s appointment of Charles Cox as the new fire chief on Monday night.
Cox said he’s grateful for the mayor’s nomination and the council’s vote to confirm him as fire chief.
“It’s an honor,” Cox said. “I hadn’t planned on it. When I started with the city, I saw the city could use some help.”
The city of Belen was experiencing financial difficulty in 2011 and was forced to lay off employees. Cox decided with his background, he could help the Belen Fire Department.
Cox moved to the Belen area in 2004 after retiring as a battalion fire chief after 34 years of service to the Aberdeen Proving Ground Fire Department, a military installation in Maryland, where he served as not only the first Black firefighter in the county, but as the first Black battalion chief.
With his long and vast credentials in hand, former Belen fire chief Manny Garcia called him up and welcomed him to the department. For the first three years, Cox volunteered at least three days a week and, whenever there was a call, no matter what time of day or night, he was there. In those first few years, he also volunteered his time as a training officer.
In 2015, Cox, a nationally-certified fire investigator, was hired by the city part-time to establish a fire marshal’s office.
“With the city growing and things happening, it turned into a full-time position,” he said. “I enjoyed my time at the time with the fire marshal’s office, and I think I did a pretty good job.
“It started out with just me, and now we have a fire marshal and two investigators who are also inspectors,” Cox said.
In 2021, Cox was promoted to deputy chief of operations when former chief Bret Ruff left the department. He was then named interim fire chief in December 2021 when former chief Nathan Godfrey retired, and again when Nick Moya was terminated last month.
“So I guess I’m back in full swing again,” said Cox, who is 73 years old. “Like I said, I never planned on this, but I’m determined to help.”
The new fire chief said he has committed to be the chief for the next two years. While Cox’s main focus will be running the department, he plans on making sure the younger officers are prepared to step up when the time comes.
“I plan on retiring in two years, when I’m 75,” he said. “We have a lot of young guys coming up, and I’m here to mentor them and prepare them to take over.
“It’ll give them the opportunity to be the future of the department,” he said. “In the past, we’d train them and they’d leave, thinking they don’t have a future here. Now, they will know there are opportunities to move up, and maybe be chief, captain or deputy chief.”
Cox, a U.S. Army and Vietnam War veteran, is also the current commander of the Chavez-Curran VFW Post 2387.
During Monday’s meeting, Cox informed the council the fire department was awarded $300,000 by the New Mexico Fire Marshal’s Office toward the purchase of a new fire truck, specifically a 1,000 gallon pumper with a 1,500 gallons per minute pump.
Cox said the department will be asking for a loan from the New Mexico Finanace Authority to finance the second half of the cost of the new apparatus.
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.