After a distinguished career with the Gallup Fire Department--most recently serving as fire marshal--Jacob Lacroix joins UNM-Gallup to contribute to the education of future first responders.

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September 9, 2020

Q: Tell us about your background and family.

I was born and raised in Oregon. When I graduated from Oregon City High School in 1996, I joined the Army as a Tanker and spent four years stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany. While there, I deployed to Bosnia and Kosovo. After completing my tour in Germany, I was reassigned and stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas, where I met my wife Carol who was also a soldier in the Army. When we both completed our service, we moved to New Mexico in 2002 in large part because Carol was from the state. We have lived and raised our four children here.

When we moved to New Mexico, I attended UNM-Gallup to finish my Associates of Applied Science with a major in Environmental Compliance Concept. While attending college, I had some free time and decided that I would check out the volunteer fire department up the street from my home. After talking with the local fire chief, I was running my first emergency call the next day. I was hooked and within a year I had applied for a position as firefighter with the Gallup Fire Department, which kicked off my career. I moved through the ranks from firefighter to lieutenant to fire inspector--eventually becoming the fire marshal.

When I began my career with the Gallup Fire Department as a firefighter in 2003, I completed the EMT Basic course in the first eight months. In 2007, I completed my EMT intermediate course, which put me in a position to be able to get my instructor coordinator certificate and start teaching continuing education training to the firefighters within my department. It also allowed me to co-teach EMT classes offered by the Gallup Fire Department through the UNM EMSA.

As a firefighter, I responded to EMS calls and administered aid to appropriate level EMT-B/EMT-I. Throughout my career with the Gallup Fire Department, I performed firefighting activities, including driving fire trucks, rescue trucks, ambulances, operating pumps, and other related equipment. And, of course, serving as a member of fire crews in the extinguishment of fires. Also, while I was a firefighter, I moonlighted at UNM-Gallup from 2005 to 2009 as a part-time faculty member, teaching fire science for the CCTE program. That experience was a blast, and I found that I really enjoyed teaching..

I eventually worked my way through the rank of shift lieutenant and then switched gears and was promoted to the Fire Prevention Office as a fire inspector. As a fire inspector, It was not all about codes and regulations; it was about education. An inspector can walk into a business and baulk about what is wrong and cause all kinds of mistrust while also damaging the fire department's reputation. But, you can educate someone about why it's important to uphold the fire code and invest in changes through education. They can then understand the importance of the changes and get behind it.

No one wants to spend money or make changes to an operation or building just because someone says so. They want to understand how it is going to benefit them, their employees, and customers. Through education, that is accomplished--and a fire or other emergency can be avoided because needed changes were made.

As a fire inspector, I also started building relationships throughout the Gallup community and realized just how amazing Gallupians are. Prior to this position, I met people during some of the worst times of their lives while treating their illnesses or injuries, accidents, and dealing with death.

Some of my other responsibilities as fire inspector included providing public education in fire prevention and giving talks, demonstrations, and presentations before community groups, schools, and other organizations as assigned. I routinely conducted inspections of existing structures, construction, and remodel sites for compliance with fire codes; along with coordinating with building officials for fire related code review and approval of occupancy permits and business licenses.

I was extremely fortunate to be promoted to the position of fire marshal in 2016. I was responsible for overseeing the Prevention Office and some of my additional duties included planning, developing, conducting, and evaluating fire prevention and educational programs for the public. I conducted fire investigations and continued the Gallup Fire Department inspection program.

More importantly, I was responsible for carrying on the mission of providing fire prevention education to the citizens of Gallup, our visitors, and the surrounding area. It was always a highlight to be able to go to the schools or to meet with the kids and parents at public events and provide them with fire prevention education. I enjoyed going into businesses and interacting with the employees and owners about fire safety. It was always about educating the businesses and people on how to be fire safe and working with them to meet the minimum safety standards of the fire code to protect their homes and businesses. Don’t get me wrong, not all contractors or business owners agreed with me, but I was fair and honest and worked with them to find sometimes creative ways to meet the intent of the code.

Q: How did the Coronavirus impact your role as fire marshal?

My responsibilities as the fire marshal changed significantly starting in March 2020. Inspections, in- person fire prevention education, in-person meetings, events--and everything that gives relationship building and personnel interaction within my job--ended due to the Coronavirus. In the enforcement part of the health orders pertaining to COVID-19, my office was responsible for education. When a new change in the current health order took place, myself and two fire inspectors would try to run around the city to provide that information to the businesses impacted by the change. It proved to be very frustrating for both my office and the businesses. We could see the personal effects that the changes and restrictions had on the businesses and some of their employees.

Another new responsibility caused by the pandemic was visiting and touring local assisted living facilities and care homes to meet with them about how they were preventing the spread of coronavirus within their facilities. We discussed what measures they were currently taking and what measures they could implement to help prevent future spread of the Coronavirus. This gave us the opportunity to meet with some of the employees and administrators and dialogue about how to improve operations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It also gave us an insight as to how extensive the spread was within these facilities--and assist them when possible in giving direction and information on needed assistance from the state.

Q: How did the decision to retire as fire marshal impact you and your family?

My decision to retire from the Gallup Fire Department was not an easy one. I loved my job and enjoyed going to work every day. Sure, there were ups and downs, but it never deterred me from trying to provide the best customer service I could. I had great leadership above me who tried diligently to provide the best for the city of Gallup, its residents, and guests. I also had great working relationships with the people around me. We did not always see eye-to-eye, but we were always able to meet in the middle and come to an agreement.

I had two very capable and awesome fire inspectors who worked with me. They were eager to train and learn their jobs and responsibilities for Gallup’s businesses, citizens, and our guests to the area. They brought fresh ideas and shared in improving our Fire Prevention Office and its operations to better serve our community.

So why did I leave a career I loved? I felt that I was leaving the Prevention Office in the capable and trusted hands of two incredible people, and I had the desire to give back to my community in another way: To provide an education for future firefighters and EMTs who will quite possibly care for my family and friends.

Firefighters, EMTs, and other first responders are the backbone of the community. When it comes to emergencies--and even a pandemic such as COVID-19--it’s our first responders that we count on when we call 9-11 to respond to our homes. First responders put others before themselves. People see an ambulance or fire truck go by and rarely give a thought about the people in those units who are working 24 to 96 hours at a time to ensure that there is someone available to respond to their emergencies. If they are short handed because of illness or injury, the other responders fill the gap selflessly and sacrifice their personal desires by helping others. While others avoid the sick, injured, or destruction, it’s our first responders who put themselves in harm’s way to control the situation and save lives. If I can help train a new generation to do that, I will.

Aside from working for UNM-Gallup, I have had the goal of traveling and visiting my children and other family and friends that are spread out from the West Coast to the East Coast. I keep saying, “Oh, we should go see this or that,” or telling my family while traveling that we should totally come back and visit a location again. I want to go back and see those things or visit new locations. Having just finished a very successful career with the Gallup Fire Department and starting a new career path with UNM-Gallup, I also plan to use my time off to enjoy myself and go see the sites that New Mexico and the surrounding areas offer.

I consider myself blessed to have been able to go from a very rewarding career and family in the fire department to another very rewarding career. I look forward to when the restrictions at UNM-Gallup are lifted, and I can truly start to get to know my new professional family.

Q: What changes have you had to implement as an instructor for this fall semester--and how have those changes impacted students?

I think the fall semester is going to go spectacularly. Most of my training and educational experiences with people have always been in person, hands on, and looking at the whites of their eyes to be able to talk to them while reading their body language and facial expressions.

As an educator, it's about adapting to changes, although sometimes with a needed push. This semester, I am learning how to effectively use several new-to-me programs including Zoom in the delivery of education. At the end of the day, if we use these programs to meet the needs of the students and give them the opportunity and tools they need to be successful, then I believe we are successful.

The EMS program is truly fortunate to be one of several programs that operate a hybrid course. Being able to have the students come to campus even if it's only once a week and work on essential hands-on training is vital to the success of our students. Sure, we have to take some extra precautions, but it’s worth it to us and our students.

As instructors, we set up our labs and clean our equipment before students come in and as soon as we complete our lab. We clean the room and prepare for the next class. We all must wear masks especially when we come within six feet of each other. For skills, we wear gowns, gloves, and face shields. The number of students that can be on campus for our courses and in the classroom is four. But, we found that having four students at a time has really allowed us to focus on the skills and to maximize the time with the students, giving them a personal experience.

We look forward to completing a successful semester and are already looking at preparing for the spring.

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UNM Gallup Article Contact:

Jacob Lacroix, Visiting Lecturer

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