State, local officials break ground for new arson storage facility
Plans to build an evidence processing and storage facility for statewide arson investigations came one step closer to reality Tuesday, Jan. 5, during a groundbreaking ceremony at the New Mexico Firefighters Training Academy.
More than 35 dignitaries — primarily from the New Mexico Public Relations Commission, Socorro city and county governments, and the New Mexico Fire Academy — celebrated the 1,600 square-foot facility, which is scheduled to be completed in April.
Brewbaker Construction, of Las Cruces, is the contractor for the project, the cost of which was not made available by the PRC.
State Fire Marshal John Standefer heaped praise on Socorro, for its relationship with the PRC, and its helpful attitude during the initial phases of developing the fire academy.
“A lot of communities wanted to be the host of this facility,” Standefer recounted, and added that Socorro was an ideal location due to its centralized location and community support.
“What you see inside this 55-acre fence is the first phase,” Standefer said.
The initial plans for the second phase of the academy expansion didn’t come to fruition, mostly due to budget constraints.
But construction for the evidence storage facility marks a new, hopeful era for the fire academy.
“We want to officially call this the beginning of the second phase,” Standefer said as he stressed the need for a central and secure location for arson evidence.
“We have had problems with investigation conclusions,” Standefer continued, and explained that New Mexico fire departments are often involved in serious crime investigations.
Standefer admitted that in the past, there have been problems with processing evidence.
“In order to win a case … we really need for the evidence to be handled properly,” Standefer said.
Standefer pointed out that fire marshals have been involved in murder cases where arson was either the direct cause of death, or used to cover up the crime.
“Our system lacked an awful lot,” he said. “When this facility is completed, that link will be strengthened.”
Standefer said the ultimate goal would be to establish an independent arson lab at the fire academy.
PRC Commissioners David King, Jason Marks and Sandy Jones also spoke at the ceremony and reiterated the importance of Socorro’s relationship and financial support of the academy.
Commissioners also expressed their thankfulness toward the City of Socorro for paying for a sewage upgrade for the fire academy several years ago.
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