First badging ceremony held for Costilla County firefighters

Courtesy photo On Nov. 14, a badging ceremony was held for the Costilla County Fire Protection District, the first of its kind for the department. All officers and firefighters received badges and uniforms. The community held fundraisers to purchase the badges and uniforms for the Costilla County Fire Protection District.

Community shows support by purchasing badges and uniforms

FORT GARLAND — Nov. 14 was a historic day for the Costilla County Fire Protection District. Chaplain Robert Dale declared this day, "the first annual badging ceremony."

The ceremony took place at the Blanca/Fort Garland Community Center. Most firefighters, when hired, receive their uniform and badge in a special ceremony. Costilla County firefighters never had uniforms or a badging ceremony. They are a volunteer fire department. Most have full-time jobs and fight fires when they can.

Dale had worked in other fire departments before coming to Costilla County about three years ago. He had a badging ceremony through the Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC).

"I remember the feeling I had at that moment...I slept on it overnight and decided I wanted (my co-workers) to feel like I felt. How excited and honored they would be. They dedicate their lives, donate their time. They deserve this. It would be just incredible," Dale said.

Dale crossed paths with Ian Jouett, who is part of an organization that helps police, firefighters, and other first responders, to show respect and their appreciation for them and what they do.

"Love on them," as MiShell Shasteen says.

Jouett, Shasteen, and George Rock formed the Helping Heroes Foundation a couple of years ago during the COVID-19 pandemic. All three are from Denver.

Rock is the senior vice president and third generation to work in his family's bank, The Bank of Denver. Jouett and his wife own a mortgage company and moved to Fort Garland several years ago, where they met Dale.

After Dale thought about having a badging ceremony, he received a $500 check, leading him to believe he had made the right decision.

Dale "gave thanks to the Heavenly Father who opened doors, made it possible...and in the hearts of all who donated."

The fire department had a fundraiser. The community stepped up and far exceeded their goal. They raised enough money for uniforms and badges.

Costilla County Fire Chief Theldon Smith led the ceremony. He explained the significance of the badge.

"The firefighter's badge is a tradition of public trust,” Smith said. “The greatest symbol of our unfettered access to public trust is the badge. It's critical we keep that trust sacred."

He thanked the donors — Trinchera Irrigation, Our Lady of the Pines, Mountain View Diner, Sangre de Cristo Ranch owners, the Movie Company, the Helping Heroes Foundation, and anonymous donors.

Smith is the embodiment of a Costilla County firefighter. He has worked as a firefighter for 28 years. He also works 60-80 hours a week at the sawmill. Before that, he worked for 13 years with an Internet company.

Before beginning the ceremony, Smith talked about his job as fire chief.

"I'll do it. But I don't like to ask people to do something dangerous," he said.

His daughter Tiffany added, “Oh yeah, my dad has always been that way! He would risk his life to save anyone. He sure is amazing.”

The most poignant part of the badge ceremony was when the families pinned the badges on their loved ones. The families' sacrifices were also acknowledged — often alone while their loved ones are fighting fires.

Police officers from San Luis and Alamosa were also honored. Some were shot in the line of duty. San Luis Officer Cruz de Soto was honored with a t-shirt and thanked for 19 years of service as of Nov. 15, 2023. He is another example of the multiple hats these first responders wear. De Soto is also the wrestling coach at Centennial school in San Luis.

After the badging ceremony, everyone was treated to a taco dinner, compliments of El Super Taco in Alamosa.

Receiving badges and uniforms were: Captains Raphael Maestas and Aaron Adams, Lieutenants Juan Espinoza, Michael Jackson, and Leon Casias, and firefighters Layne Anderson, Gilbert Apodaca,  Joshua Casias, Matthew Cordova, Richard Duran, Juan Espinoza, Heather Hauk, David Heinstein, Matt Husman, Cade Kunugi, Matthew Lucero, John V. Meyers, Isaiah Montano, Lucas Pettigrew, Julian Rodriguez, Colleen Romero, Brian Rost, Hunter Velasquez, Bladamir Astorga, Tyler Kester and Jesus Reyes.