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New Farmingtion fire chief says he’ll play an active role in day-to-day functions

Robert Sterrett said he learned much from his predecessor, David Burke
Chief Robert Sterrett climbs into one of the Farmington Fire Department's trucks. Sterrett recently became the new fire chief. (Morgan Mitchell/Durango Herald)

FARMINGTON – The city of Farmington officially named Robert Sterrett as the new Farmington Fire Department chief.

He replaces longtime chief David Burke, who worked with the department for 24 years. Before being named chief, Sterrett served in a temporary role as chief. He oversees six fire stations and more than 100 employees.

“It’s a huge responsibility to represent the city that I raise my children in, and have worked in,” Sterrett said. “... The leaders before me have created the department we see today, and that was by leaving it better than when they found it, which is my intention as well.

“I want to do what I can to improve the safety of the citizens and what I can do to better the department so we can provide a top-notch fire department for the city.”

Sterrett said COVID-19 was a huge hindrance on training in addition to a few years of “tough financial times” that also affected training. So Sterrett said one of his main goals was to bring back training.

“One of the components of outside training is perspective,” Sterrett said. “You see how we do it, and how we train, but it doesn’t really correlate to what the rest of the fire world is doing.”

Chief Robert Sterrett stands with one of the Farmington Fire Department’s trucks. Sterrett recently became the new fire chief. (Morgan Mitchell/Durango Herald)

Sterrett said he is looking at large departments like the Houston Fire Department or the Los Angeles Fire Department to see how they compare with the Farmington Fire Department.

“By looking at that we can be sure that we’re top-notch and staying with national trends,” Sterrett said. “So it brings more credit to what we’re doing here.”

Another goal deals with the alternative response unit, which responds to low-threat 911 calls, and finding “proactive” ways to engage the demographics that generate the most calls. Sterrett said the current call volume is high.

The department anticipates 16,000 to 17,000 calls for service this year. Educating community members about fire safety through its alternative response unit could help alleviate call volume, he said.

Before becoming chief in Farmington, Sterrett worked as a volunteer at a fire department outside Fort Worth, Texas, and then moved to Farmington, where he was hired in 2005. He was on the wildfire team, engineer committee and tech rescue, and he has acted as engineer, lieutenant, captain, battalion chief, support services chief and deputy chief.

“I am a very involved chief,” he said. “I like to go see how the guys are trained at the academy, I like to see guys working and have that, not so much connection, but trying to maintain an understanding of what is going on and what it’s like while they’re working. I try not to lose sight of that.”

Community involvement is one of Sterrett’s strong suits, and he credits his predecessor for teaching him.

“One of the biggest things I learned from Chief Burke was how involved he was,” Sterrett said. “He was involved in as many organizations and departments as he could. ... So being able to work well with as many departments and maintain relationships, it just makes everything function at a higher level.”

mmitchell@durangoherald.com

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