Socorro residents say firefighters ill-prepared to handle fire

Socorro residents say firefighters ill-prepared to handle fire

18 March 2008

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El Paso, Texas, USA — Residents of a Socorro neighborhood are left with feelings of resentment, anger and frustration after a brush fire Sunday afternoon raged out of control and burned several homes.

Residents said the volunteer fire department was not prepared to fight the massive fire, did not have enough firefighters and equipment did not work.

But fire department officials said the problem was not the equipment nor the fire department, but winds of 60 mph that churned the fire out of control.

The fire destroyed three homes and damaged five others on Socorro Road near Bovee Road.

“This could have been worse. This could have been an entire neighborhood that burned down,” said Abel Hernandez, who made a desperate call to 911 when he noticed firefighters could not get their equipment to work. “They need to hire more people, not just volunteers.”

Many residents of the area said an alleged lack of preparedness by Socorro firefighters may have contributed to the quick spread of the blaze. The initial call about a brush fire was placed to the fire department at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday, but winds caused the fire to change direction and move toward several apartments and mobile homes.

“There were two firefighter trucks. … Only two firefighters got off and one was a very old man, who could barely walk,”

Hernandez said of the first responders to the scene. “I had to try help (firefighters) out — either that or my house was going to burn down.”

The entire neighborhood, he said, is disappointed with the job done by the fire department. The community needs more professionally trained firefighters, he said.

Lori Federico, who also lives in the neighborhood, said she observed after firefighters connected the water hoses, they didn’t have water.

“When they were going to fight the fire they notice they didn’t have water,” she said. “I think it would have helped a little bit if they would have had water. We got very upset, we were very upset.”

The department is made up of about 30 volunteers, said Lt. Samuel Magallanes of the Socorro Fire Department.

Magallanes said the fire was fought with water from hydrants, so there was enough water the entire time. Strong winds were the main factor in the blaze spreading out of control, he said.

Socorro fire headquarters, 11440 North Loop, has one tanker, which holds 5,000 gallons of water; four pumpers, each holding 1,000 gallons of water; rescue vehicles; and three quick attack vehicle for small brush fires.

“We had both water and manpower. The problem was the wind,” Magallanes said. “I think we did a real good job. We had enough people at the beginning of the fire, and we also had help from the counties and El Paso fire departments.”

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