The Cortez Fire Protection District has appointed a new chief, in the latest of several big changes to the organization.
After the May 8 election brought three new faces to the district’s board of directors, they helped to appoint Jay Balfour as the new fire chief.
Balfour, a longtime Cortez resident, left his position as a battalion chief in the Farmington Fire Department to take the job on June 4, filling the vacancy left in January by former Fire Chief Jeff Vandevoorde.
He said he hopes to bring more training resources to the fire district, but the first items on his summer agenda include finding an administrative assistant and preparing to move the district office into its $4 million new location on North Washington Street.
Balfour started his firefighting career as a volunteer in Cortez in 1980, before the Volunteer Fire Department became the Fire Protection District. Since then, he has continued to work as a firefighter, switching back and forth between Cortez and Farmington.
He also served as the Cortez fire marshal from 1995 to 1999.
But when he heard in December that Vandevoorde planned to retire, he had been working full-time in Farmington for several years, and was considering retirement himself. He said the opening of the Cortez Fire Chief position caused him to rethink that plan.
“I thought it’d be cool to finish up where I started,” he said. “It was a good opportunity for me, for us, to give something back.”
Balfour’s wife, Gloria, has also spent most of her career in emergency services. She worked as a firefighter in Cortez for 19 years, 10 as a volunteer and nine as a paid employee. She said she doesn’t plan to go back to work for the Cortez Fire Protection District full-time, but she may still put her EMT certification to use.
“I won’t be getting paid for what I do,” she said. “I’ll just volunteer to help wherever.”
The new fire chief inherited a district in the midst of a transitional period. Not only does it have a largely new board of directors, it is also preparing to move into its new headquarters, which Balfour said will be complete in early August.
Administrative assistant Wendy Mimiaga left the district May 22 to work at Ertel Funeral Home, Balfour said, so his first order of business will be to find her replacement. He’s already advertised for the position, he said, and plans to narrow down the candidates in the next few weeks.
In the long term, though, Balfour said he wants to focus more on training for both new and experienced firefighters in the fire district.
“There’s so many good people that work here,” he said. “What I really want to do is empower them and give them opportunities to be successful.”
Once he’s settled into the fire chief position, he said he plans to schedule some kind of training for every day of the week.
He also hopes to acquire more up-to-date equipment for firefighters.
Beyond that, he said, he doesn’t plan to make any changes in the district until after the new building is complete. It has a tentative opening date of Aug. 5.
This article was reposted July 3 to correct the date that Wendy Mimiaga left the Fire Protection District.