New Mexico Fire Chief Arrested at Wildland Fire

Here’s a story we somehow missed last March, where a New Mexico fire chief was arrested following what appears to be some bizarre behavior at a 3 acre wildland fire.

Fire Chief Eddie Velarde of the… you can’t make this stuff up …. Velarde Fire Department in the town of … you guessed it …. Velarde – apparently got a tad agitated – OK – hysterical – to the point that sheriff’s deputies had to intervene. They first attempted to calm the Chief down, and when that didn’t work they went with Plan B, arresting the Chief and taking command of the incident. In case you are wondering, there is no NIMS protocol for forcibly relieving an IC of command (its a local matter), but a Lieutenant from the Rio Arriba County Sheriffs Department took command and the fire was wrapped up promptly after that.

Here’s a news video about the March 29, 2011 incident:

Chief Velarde was charged with disorderly conduct. There does not appear to have been any news updates on the case since the arrest.

This case if of great interest to me because it relates to a topic I have been tracking and writing about for several years now: firefighters being arrested at incident scenes in turf battles with police over who is in charge, aka “Police-Fire Wars”. Its a fascinating topic that has important implications for fire and police organizations, as well as ICS.

This year, my brother Bill (a police detective lieutenant) and I started doing a presentation called “Police-Fire Wars: Who’s In Charge?” where we discuss the growing number of police-fire war cases in detail.  We are presenting at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore in July on the topic. We’ll be sure to have all the details on the New Mexico case by then, but from the sounds of it, my brother is going to enjoy the case more than me!!!

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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