RIO COMMUNITIES — A week after reporting for duty as the new and first-ever paid fire chief at the Rio Grande Estates Fire Department in Rio Communities, Christopher Bortz turned in his letter of resignation.
His letter of resignation to the city manager and council reads:
“With this letter, please accept my resignation from the position of Fire Chief for the City of Rio Communities. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the City for the opportunity to act as Fire Chief. However, for personal reasons I feel that it is in the best interest of both myself and my family to resign effective October 15, 2021.”
Rio Communities City Manager Martin Moore said Bortz had been on the job for about a week when he received the chief’s resignation. Moore said Bortz resigned for “personal reasons,” but the News-Bulletin has learned the fire chief allegedly received threats days into his employment.
“That, I can’t confirm or deny,” Moore said. “He didn’t tell me he left as a result of threats; that doesn’t mean he didn’t receive any. He left for personal reasons, and he felt it would be best for his family to go back to South Carolina.”
According to Moore, Bortz had relocated to Rio Communities earlier this month, initially bringing a fifth wheel to live in, and his family had stayed behind and were planning to join him later.
Moore said Bortz’s letter of resignation will be on the agenda for consideration at the next city council meeting on Monday, Oct. 25, and the council will discuss the next steps in recruiting a new fire chief.
“The city’s needs haven’t changed because of this situation,” Moore said of the city needing a full-time fire chief.
“My honest feelings is I feel kind of sad because I was really hopeful things would work out because he interviewed really well,” Moore said of Bortz. “I always kind of feel sad when things like this don’t work out.
“As a city manager, I’ve been in situations throughout my career where there are things that come up. As far as I’m concerned, I would have loved to see it work out, and I wish Chris nothing but the best.”
The city manager said there have been conversations about the alleged threats, but he hasn’t been able to confirm them.
“I can tell you this much, I don’t tolerate that kind of behavior if it comes from our paid or volunteer people at the fire department, or any department in the city for that matter,” Moore said. “As far as sensitivity training and talking to the personnel, yes, we’ll be doing some follow-up training with the staff and talking to them.
“Right now, I don’t have facts that (the threats) came from a verified source or not,” Moore said. “As a city manager, I always treat those things seriously.”
When the city council began discussing the plan to hire a paid fire chief a couple of years ago, several members of the community and the RGEFD voiced their opposition to the idea, saying a volunteer chief was adequate for the department.
The city council voted unanimously to appoint Bortz as the new fire chief in August, and afterward he told the News-Bulletin he was very excited for the opportunity to lead the RGEFD.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Bortz said of the position in a telephone interview with the News-Bulletin in August. “One of the reasons I applied (for the position) is because I’ve been in the career field for 31 years, and this would be the pinnacle of my career, taking the top position as fire chief.”
At the time, he said his ultimate goal was to get the department to the state where it will be a combination of paid-career staff and volunteers. He hoped accomplish that in the next five years.
The News-Bulletin left messages and sent emails to Bortz on Monday for comment regarding his resignation, but didn’t hear back from him before deadline.
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.