BELEN — Scribbled on Belen Fire Chief Nicholas Moya’s white board in his office is a long list of priorities, with the first one being additional personnel.
Moya, who was appointed to the position in January by Mayor Robert Noblin, and started in early February, is excited and grateful for the opportunity to lead the Belen Fire Department.
““I am excited that Chief Moya accepted the appointment as fire chief, and I look forward to watching the continued forward momentum of the Belen Fire Department under his leadership,” Noblin said.
Moya, who had originally aspired to be a military pilot, began volunteering in 2005 at the Manzano Vista Fire Department while working for his father digging water wells. He said his volunteer experience changed his mind and his career path.
“I always thought about being a firefighter,” Moya said. “It was always about public safety and that I can help people — whether it be in the military or just helping people.”
Moya remembers the day when he first met former MVFD chief Jimmy Cooke. He and his dad were at the station doing some work when Cooke asked Moya if he knew what he wanted to do in life, and if he ever thought of becoming a firefighter.
“He started talking to me more and more about it, and by the end of the day, I had my application submitted,” he remembers. “That’s how it all started. I remember telling him I’m a very goal-oriented person, so getting into the fire department was a great opportunity.”
Having been involved in sports — wrestling, track and as the captain of the football team at Los Lunas High School — Moya knew what being part of a team was all about. He says the fire department is very much a team concept.
“It was great,” Moya said of his first few years as a volunteer. “I thought the fire service was a great career, and I learned what I needed to do to make this my career.”
During his five-year stint as a volunteer, Moya received his Firefighter I certification and EMT-Basic license. In that time, he was promoted to training lieutenant and eventually to assistant chief. When Cooke became ill, Moya took on the interim chief’s position for a year. It was at that time that he was doing double duty, running fire at MVFD and EMS at the Los Chavez Fire Department.
In 2010, Moya was then hired on as a PRN with the county, meaning he would be paid to work a shift when one of the career staff would call in sick.
He worked full-time as a PRN for a year, and then in 2011, he moved over to full-time officially. In 2012, he was promoted to EMS coordinator for the Valencia County Fire Department, and was an assistant chief.
“The people, the crews and the community kept me in,” Moya said. “The thank yous from the community when you’re there to help them in their time of need was more than the compensation for me.”
During his 10 years with the county, he received his Firefighter II certification and EMT-Intermediate license, and obtained two associate degrees, one in fire science and another in integrated studies. Moya is currently looking at going back to The University of New Mexico to get his bachelor’s degree in business administration, with the end goal of obtaining his executive officer’s certification through the National Fire Academy.
Moya decided to throw his hat into the ring for the Belen job after waiting for a year for the county administration to call him for an interview for the chief’s position. He interviewed for both positions, but ultimately, he was offered the job in the Hub City.
“I wanted this position — I wanted to prove that I could be a chief,” Moya said. “I’d rather do it and fail and learn than not do it and wonder what would have happened.”
Moya said he’s grateful that the mayor and council have confidence in him, and feels supported by the staff and administration to do the job and be successful.
“It’s very exciting, and I’ve been welcomed into a family and ultimately, that’s what the fire service is — a family,” Moya said of his position. “We’re here for each other and, as chief, my role is to support the staff, make sure they’re safe, as well as protecting the health and welfare of the community.”
With only a month on the job, he’s still feeling his way around and learning his job.
“I want to make sure we’re addressing our ISO and maintaining the insurance rates for the residents, and also looking at the fleet, making sure we have what we need,” the new chief said. “I want to make sure the crews have what they need to be successful.”
Moya isn’t looking to make a lot of changes right away, saying he does want to add another three full-time firefighters to the staff. Currently, the Belen Fire Department has a total of 13 full-time firefighters, including his command staff, 12 ARFF firefighters at the airport, and nine volunteers.
“My initial plans are to shoot for three more personnel,” Moya said. “I would like to meet the minimum standard; if we get three more, I’ll put four on each shift. Right now, we have three on a shift, but if we have to take a patient to Albuquerque, two have to go, and it leaves one.”
Moya said he would also like to add a deputy fire marshal to the staff at some point to help maintain annual inspections of businesses in the city. He would also like to create a community risk reduction program, previously known as fire prevention.
The new chief has a lot of plans for the Belen Fire Department, and realizes it will take time. In the meantime, he’s learning, he’s getting to know people and is looking to the future.
“I love the fact that we’re the pillar of hope in the city of Belen,” Moya said of the fire department. “The department has always been that, and that’s one of the reasons I came here.”
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.