New fire chief hopes to improve fire department in Rio Communities

RIO COMMUNITIES — Andrew Tabet wasn’t at the city council meeting when he was appointed the new, full-time interim fire chief of the Rio Grande Estates Fire Department. Instead, he was out helping fight the Big Hole Fire.

However, he was at last week’s meeting to be sworn in to his new position. Tabet had been the volunteer chief of the RGEFD, soon to be changed to the Rio Communities Fire Department, for nearly two years prior to his appointment.

“I’m very excited to have been named chief,” Tabet said. “This is just the beginning, and I’m happy to lead the department.”

Tabet isn’t the first full-time fire chief at RGEFD. In October 2021, Christopher Bortz turned in his letter of resignation a week after he started the position.

City Manager Martin Moore has worked with Tabet for the last year and he’s confident the new fire chief has the abilities to step up to the plate.

“It’s going to be a challenging for him this year because of the drought, but he’s up for it,” Moore said of Tabet. “I wouldn’t have recommended him to the council if I thought he couldn’t do it.”

Moore explained as the city was walking through the recruiting process for a new fire chief, they were finding it wasn’t working very well as there was a shortage of candidates.

“I spoke with the council and told them we were short on people and asked them to try (Tabet) out on an interim basis,” Moore said. “After a year, the city will evaluate to see where it wants to go — to either make it a permanent position or look for someone else. It will ultimately be the council’s decision.”

Tabet’s contract with the city of Rio Communities is for one year, with a salary of $35,000.

Tabet has been a volunteer firefighter and EMT ever since he walked into the Abeytas fire station in 2006. He has volunteered with the city of Belen for about eight years, and left for two years to help run the family’s restaurant, Circle T. It was in 2018 that he walked into the RGEFD to volunteer and hasn’t left.

Throughout his time at the fire department in Rio Communities, he’s been promoted to lieutenant and assistant chief. He holds a Firefighter I certificate, an EMT Basic license and has training in wildland fire suppression.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid,” Tabet said about fire fighting. “I believe there is a lot of growth to be made in the city of Rio Communities and within the fire department. I feel I can help in doing that.”

Tabet says, as chief, he wants to continue the department’s education, including for himself. He wants to get his inspector certification as well as a few others. He would also like to be able to hire more career staff.

About seven months ago, the city council hired two full-time firefighter/EMTs, Lt. Jesse Tourne and Lt. Kendall Good, to serve the community.

“It was hard for us to answer calls during the day, during the week,” Tabet said. “Since then, they’ve been excellent. They work four days a week, 10 hours a day.”

Now that Tabet is working full-time at the station, he’s literally been fighting a lot of fires.

“Between the Big Hole Fire and the Simona Fire, it’s been very busy,” Tabet said. “I’ve also been looking to see what needs to be done here at the station.”

Along with his duties as the fire chief, Tabet is also tasked as the city’s compliance officer and in charge of code enforcement for the city of Rio Communities.

“What that means is I make sure that everybody’s yards and houses are safe for fire and for public health,” Tabet said. “On the fire side, if there are weeds 6-feet tall up to their house, it is a fire danger. I would go talk to them and advise them to clean it up.”

Tabet is also enforcing city ordinances, such as trash, inoperable cars — anything that’s on the city’s books that he can enforce or at least help the residents understand it, Tabet said.

As for the department itself, Tabet hopes to increase the number of volunteers. Currently there are 22 active volunteers within the RGEFD, and the new chief said they’re always looking for more.

“When I was a kid and saw the fires, I always wanted to do something,” Tabet said. “It stuck with me, and I always wanted to help the community. If someone has the likemindness and thought process, this is the place to do it — or wherever they live or wherever they can.”

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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.