DEL NORTE— Rio Grande County Commissioners announced during an Upper Rio Grande Economic Development Council meeting that they have hired a new emergency manager. Chris Ortiz will begin his new position in May as the new Rio Grande emergency manager. Ortiz comes to the position with several years of experience in law enforcement, wildfire mitigation and coast guard. “I am looking forward to forming partnerships and working with some great people,” said Ortiz. Ortiz will be taking over for Jerry Dennis who was the emergency manager for the past three years.
Dennis came to his position after learning of the vacancy from a friend. Dennis served during the West Fork Complex Fire and recalls how exciting and challenging it was to be thrown into his position, “I was literally tested by fire. I had barely completed some training when the fire broke out and it was amazing to be a part of such an exciting and challenging time,” said Dennis.
He reminisced about how the Valley came together during that tragedy, forming a partnership to help the struggling communities get back on their feet and look to the future for strength. “We were able to come together and form a contingency plan for the future in case something similar happened. I remember being the one to go down to New Mexico to pick up the weather radar and bring it back so we could monitor the rain near the burn scar. If there is anything I can say about my time, it is that it was a privilege to serve as the emergency manager and I enjoyed the time I had.”
When asked what he would say to the new manager coming on duty, Dennis responded by stating that communication and trust in local officials is key. “Communication to the public through education and other means is very important. I would also say to trust and rely on the leadership that is available,” said Dennis.
Ortiz will begin as the new emergency manager on May 1. Through his experience fighting wildland fires throughout his career, Ortiz stated that he feels confident in the Forest Service and wildland fire mitigation plans that are in place. “I plan on going through our plans and adding to them, not changing them. I really want to form partnerships with area organization, both the ones I have worked with in the past and new ones,” said Ortiz.
Ortiz will undergo some additional training required for his new position and will come back to do mock training with area organizations like local fire departments and search and rescue teams. “The Valley is very well organized already and I look forward to adding to that,” said Ortiz.
Ortiz spoke about his experience and the fact that he worked on both the Million and West Fork fires. “I have done fire management across the country, and I know that the local forest service is very good about keeping up with the current conditions of the forest. I am looking forward to the new challenge and getting to do what I have always done,” finished Ortiz.
Ortiz stated that his message to the public about furthering education and being prepared is his main focus as the new emergency manager. “People need to be prepared and to use the information that is available. Be aware and take the time to utilize the information that is out there either through a website or literature.” Ortiz finished by stating that he hopes to remain as open as possible both with the public in Rio Grande County and local organizations and officials. “I will have an open door policy.”