As the world, our nation, our state and our communities have been challenged with the restrictions and concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, our sense of security has been confronted in a way it’s never been before.

But one thing for certain in these challenging and uncertain times is how important our first responders are to protecting our local communities.

The dedicated men and women who serve us tirelessly day in and day out, protecting us from harm and peril at every turn, are really the modern-day Unsung Heroes.

As we have learned first-hand over the past seven months, Valencia County is not immune to the many challenges confronting our society today — the impact of the pandemic, health and safety trepidations and business closures. While we are all still trying to deal with and come to terms with this point in history, our first responders — including law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical personnel — haven’t missed a beat and have continued to serve and protect us better than ever.

“It’s been a challenging time,” said Los Lunas Police Chief Naithan Gurule. “We’re still trying to get our jobs done but are also having to take a lot of extra precautions. We’re still expected to make traffic stops, look in on businesses, but still make sure we stay safe.”

Bret Ruff, the chief of the Belen Fire Department, says his EMTs and firefighters have always taken precautions when they respond to a call, but they’re more aware.

“You don’t know who is sick or not, but we take all the precautions necessary,” Ruff said. “We’re doing a little more social distancing when we can. Instead of sending in six guys, only one or two go in to do a quick assessment.”

If there is an obvious life emergency, medical personnel will still follow the COVID-19 safe precautions but their patients health and well-being is priority.

“All of us have been taking precautions to keep ourselves and the public safe,” Ruff said. “There have been a few incidents where there’s been a concern, but thankfully none of our staff has contracted it.”

While wearing masks, taking their temperatures on a daily basis and cleaning work areas multiple times a day has become a norm at the Los Lunas Police Department, Gurule says they have to balance safety with doing their jobs.

“We still have to make arrests,” Gurule said. “We want to try to do everything right, but at the same time, officers are still having to do their jobs.”

The responsibilities of a first responder is interaction with the public, and that hasn’t changed because of the pandemic. Although it may be a little more difficult, Gurule says what hasn’t changed is their mission to help victims and keep the community safe.

“It’s a balance of doing that part of the job and keeping the community safe under these distancing guidelines,” the police chief said.

For Ruff and his crew, the pandemic has given them the opportunity to get out a little more — while doing so safely — into the community. They’ve done birthday drive-bys for children as well as the elderly in the community.

“We’ll drive by, honk our horns, turn on the lights and sirens,” Ruff said. “We’ll give the kids little helmets, just because they can’t celebrate the way they used to.”

Belen Fire and Rescue has also made it a point to be more of a presence in the community.

“We support the community, not just when people call 911,” the fire chief said. “We still try to immerse ourselves within the community. We’ve been going to some of our patients homes who are elderly who we may have not seen for a while. We’ll do welfare checks to make sure they’re doing OK and getting the things they need like food and supplies.”


Law Enforcement

Belen Police Department

Bosque Farms Police Department

Los Lunas Police Department

New Mexico State Police

Valencia County Sheriff’s Office

Fire and Rescue

Belen Fire and Rescue

Bosque Farms Fire Department

Jarales/Pueblitos/Bosque Fire Department

Los Chavez Fire Department

Los Lunas Fire Department

Manzano Vista Fire Department

Meadow Lake Fire Department

Peralta Fire Department

Rio Grande Estates Fire Department

Tomé/Adelino Fire Department

Valencia County Fire Department

Valencia/El Cerro Fire Department

Ambulance service

AMR (American Medical Response)

Since the beginning of the pandemic, first responders in Valencia County have seen an outpouring of support from the community. Gurule says the show of appreciation has been good for officer morale.

“We’ve seen so much since spring break,” Gurule said of the show of appreciation. “Since the beginning of the pandemic and incidents across the United States involving law enforcement, we’ve seen an outpouring of support I have never seen before. It’s been amazing.”

At least two to three times a week, a family or local organization of business will take officers everything from food and doughnuts to masks and thank-you cards. One group in the Huning Ranch subdivision also started an “Adopt-a-Cop,” where someone will bring an officer something on any given day.

“Someone got lunch from Dion’s the other day, and someone sent me a plate of cookies,” Gurule said. “It’s just been that nonstop support.”

Belen Fire Chief Bret Ruff has been a front-line volunteer as he helps the Belen Public Health Office conduct coronavirus testing every Tuesday and Friday.
Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo

For Gurule and his officers, and all the law enforcement personnel in Valencia County, they continue to try as hard as they can to serve the community and treat people with respect.

“I feel like the officers out on the street and our detectives are absolutely the heroes,” Gurule said. “They’re the ones who have it the hardest, dealing with the people and issues.”

While the police officers, firefighters and EMTs continue to protect the community on a daily basis, they’ve gone that extra mile during the COVID-19 pandemic to make sure people are safe. Since early on in the pandemic, multiple first responders throughout Valencia County have been volunteering their time to help the public health office with coronavirus testing.

“I’m out there every Tuesday and Friday,” Ruff said. “I’m on the front line, swabbing and conducting tests. We’ve had the chief and assistant chief from the Los Lunas Fire Department come out, as well as the county folks.”

When asked if he’s concerned with possible exposure, Ruff said it’s all in a days work, explaining that emergency medical personnel are prone to exposure to a variety of viruses and such every time they respond to a call.

“I make sure I take all the precautions before, during and after,” Ruff said. “This is what we do. We’ve got a pandemic and we’ve got to deal with it.

“As for me, as fire chief, I wouldn’t put my guys in a position I wouldn’t put myself in,” he said. “I get in there and get my hands dirty. I’m not scared; COVID-19 is just a little different because it’s so contagious. We deal with it all the time, but we can’t stop our job.”

When asked about being referred to as heroes, Ruff said they don’t think of themselves that way.

“We signed up to be firefighters because this is what we like doing; we like helping people,” he said. “We’ll put our lives on the line for other people. We don’t do it for praise; we’re not attention-seekers. We just want to help.”

Clearly our first responders are doing a great job protecting us and our community. That is why we all should support and be thankful for all of our first responders.

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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.