SUNLAND PARK, N.M (KFOX14) — The immigration crisis on the U.S-Mexico Border is a federal-level issue that the small fire department in Sunland Park, New Mexico is taking on at the local level.
The City of Sunland Park is nestled right on the Texas-New Mexico state line, but also right on the U.S-Mexico Border, and at a time when border encounters are at an all-time high, their fire department is responding more and more to border rescues.
"What is happening is that a lot of these immigrants are falling off the wall or jumping off the wall and sustaining lower extremity issues," said Battalion Chief of Sunland Park Fire, Ramiro Rios.
The department has seen more calls to desert areas of the border wall, averaging between 25 to 30 calls a month.
As of November 2022, the department has been called out 234 times, during the fiscal year 2021 SPFD had 224 calls.
Compared to 2019 when the department only made 54 trips to the wall and 70 in 2020.
Some days Rios said his crews make the trip three times in one shift.
"A lot of the times these calls take over an hour to two hours and a lot of the times we don't know exactly where the patient is," said Rios.
This time leaves the City of Sunland Park with only one active emergency crew.
"When they come out here to the desert and they're out here for an hour or two then that leaves one engine company to protect the city for any structure fire, traffic accident, or routine medical call," added Rios.
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While Border Patrol does its best to respond to emergency rescues and has EMTs on staff, they're not always available.
These rescues are not always easy for SPFD.
"A lot of the time they're nowhere near a road, so we have to go off-road looking for them," said Rios.
The desert terrain of the area has forced the department to adapt and invest more than $500,000 in equipment.
"We have two brush trucks and those trucks have come in extremely handy to get on these dirt roads. If we have to go extremely off road then we have a military hummer that we have outfitted for patient transport," said Rios. "We also have a polaris ranger that we use to get out here."
The wall isn't the only danger that migrants find while on their journeys through the desert.
"They're wandering through the desert full of rattlesnakes, sometimes they'll lay down because they're dehydrated." said "This desert has a ton of ants it's rough country out here."
Sunland Park Fire officials said that as long as there is a need for medical aid, they will continue to respond.
Rios said that the department continues to look for additional funding to enhance its capabilities.
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