Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Gallegos climbs ladder from piper to fire chief

Gene Gallegos, pictured in the Fire Academy Museum, was recently confirmed as head of Albuquerque Fire Rescue by the Albuquerque City Council. Gallegos has been with the department since 2000, but his career in town actually began in the Senior Affairs department as a dishwasher at Los Volcanes Senior Center. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / )

Copyright © 2021

Albuquerque’s new fire chief has steadily worked his way up the department head over the past 21 years – from piper to driver to lieutenant to captain to battalion chief and fire marshal, with some medical schools and tasks along the way.

But Gene Gallegos’ public service career actually began far from the lights and sirens of emergency calls. Shortly after graduating from West Mesa High School and enrolling at what was then TVI, he took his first town job washing dishes at Los Volcanes Senior Center.

He spent about three years at the center, rising to breakfast chef, and eventually taking a position directing senior fishing and hiking trips and helping develop other interactive programs.

Gallegos, whose father was a civilian employee with Albuquerque Fire Rescue, waited his time until he reached the age of firefighters, which was then 21 on personal life.

Above all, he said, he has learned how important it is to seize the moment.

“It was a very good experience, and a very humbling experience, to listen to their stories to make sure I didn’t turn down or miss any opportunities,” Gallegos said in a recent interview from an administrative conference room at the city’s fire department.

With this in mind, the 43-year-old Gallegos said he knew better than to decline the 2018 offer to take on the job of the city fire department.

Gene Gallegos has over 20 years of experience with Albuquerque Fire Rescue. In November he was appointed fire chief by Mayor Tim Keller. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / )

But at that time he had no idea how the position would ultimately sharpen his public profile. With the onset of the pandemic, the Fire Marshal’s Office went into full force in enforcing the city’s public health order, and Gallegos had a frequent presence during Mayor Tim Keller’s COVID-19 media briefings.

“I was obliged to make up the public face and do our best to protect everyone,” said Gallegos.

Under the leadership of Gallegos, Keller said the fire marshal’s office played an “instrumental” educational and enforcement role during the ever-evolving pandemic.

“Your support and flexibility have helped us keep our community safe and informed,” Keller said in a statement. “(Gallegos’) experience and dedication to helping our people and our city throughout his 20+ years at AFR is exactly what we need from a leader in public safety.”

When Paul Dow – fire chief since 2018 – retired in April, Keller brought Gallegos as his interim replacement. Last month, the mayor made Gallegos permanent. The city council approved him as Albuquerque Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael during its December 20 session, and several city councilors praised him.

“I know he will make us all proud because of his work ethic and personality,” said Rael before the vote.

Gallegos, who has spent much of his AFR career staging in East Central, said his goals as a division manager include increasing the number of units in southeast Albuquerque, where call traffic is highest. He also wants to recruit more paramedics – 88% of AFR calls are for emergency services – or get more existing firefighters to complete paramedic training. Gallegos said paramedics are prone to burnout, something he wants to combat by giving them more flexibility in changing roles within the department.

Gallegos also said he looks forward to leading the next generation of firefighters and compares himself to a father who hopes his children will achieve even more than he does.

“I have some members and some future heads of this department and I am so excited to see what they can do. … The future of this department is bright, ”he said.

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