Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo

Tommy Sanchez, the new district director for the Valencia Regional Emergency Communications Center, plans to apply for accreditation of the center to show it is operating at its highest level of efficiency.

LOS LUNAS— In his younger years, Tommy Sanchez wanted to be a professional drummer.

While still a bit rock and roll, Sanchez’ passion now lies in public safety.

Recently named the district director of the Valencia Regional Emergency Communications Center, Sanchez said he’s “all in” and has hopes of retiring from the position.

“The way I am going to approach the role is to be first and foremost the public face of VRECC,” Sanchez said. “Make sure I’m responsive to all the responding agencies and the governments within the county.

“If there’s things that need to be dealt with on that level, those are the primary responsibilities of the director. I need to be available to help out any part of these branches.”

Sanchez began working for the center in 2018 as the GIS coordinator, and has a long career in the fire and public safety sector. He was an assistant fire chief with the Belen Fire Department, served as the emergency manager for the city of Belen and was a trainer for the incident command system.

Coming to VRECC has given Sanchez a different perspective on emergency services.

“Even as an emergency manager, you kind of don’t realize what dispatch does, yet you expect them to be there when you need them,” he said. “It really feels like it has come full circle because I knew the other side of the radio but I really took this service for granted.”

Because dispatchers are such a key part of emergency services, Sanchez — and previous VRECC director Shirley Valdez — has been lobbying to have dispatchers recognized as first responders, just like law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel.

“A lot of people don’t realize they aren’t considered first responders,” he said.

Several local governing bodies, including the Valencia County Board of County Commissioners, have signed resolutions supporting the change in designation, which will give Sanchez and directors across the state support for a request before the New Mexico Legislature.

Although he isn’t a certified dispatcher, Sanchez said he will take a hands-on role at the center to help alleviate issues that may impact service.

VRECC has a non emergency, administrative line the public can call rather than 911, but that line can be overwhelmed with calls.

“If there’s somebody who keeps calling on that line, I’ll have them transferred to me to basically explain why the dispatchers can’t talk to them and have some of those conversations,” he said. “We have gotten complaints that dispatchers hang up on people who call on that line. By federal law, we have to hang up and answer the 911 calls.”

As director, Sanchez plans to push for improved software and support for fire and medical services.

“We have a lot of cool stuff for the police side of things, and that’s always growing and expanding, but one of the biggest changes I really want to make is to make sure fire and medical gets the same attention,” he said. “A lot of times, when we’re looking at statistics, a lot of these departments have struggled with getting volunteers and things like that.

“I have to make sure I provide accurate statistics, so if they need more paid positions, they can justify them.”

Valencia County Fire Chief Matt Propp recently used statistics from VRECC that showed a 49.4 percent increase in incidents for the department, almost four times the national average increase, to seal the deal on funding for six new firefighter positions for the county.

Sanchez also plans to apply for accreditation of the center, which is a two-year process, he said.

“Accreditation shows that, as a center, your operating guidelines and practices are up to par and you are doing everything you’re supposed to do as a center,” he said.

When the position came open earlier this year after Valdez retired, Sanchez said he gave a lot of thought to whether he wanted to apply for the permanent position after being appointed interim director by the VRECC board.

“I didn’t want to do that until I could make sure I was going to do it with passion,” he said. “I’m all in and I want to do this with meaning.”

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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.