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Courtesy Photo Cordova drives the Questa fire truck

Represntando al Norte – July 2024: Raynelle Cordova

Being raised in a community where your history connects to every part of your present, it is difficult to find the courage to leave. It is similarly difficult to forge a path and stay.

Questa del Rio News is committed to highlighting different members of our community, both those who have created their paths and planted their own roots in the community that raised them, and those who have pursued lives outside of the community – through our Representando series. This series is dedicated to those who are Representando communities in northern Taos County, in various facets of life.

For our July issue, we spoke with Questa’s Emergency Medical Service’s Chief Raynelle Cordova. At an early age, Cordova had a calling to help people. After graduating from high school, she participated in the Health Careers Opportunities Internship Program, which gave graduating seniors the opportunity to experience working in a healthcare setting. Cordova had her sights set on becoming a pediatrician where she could combine her love for children and passion for the healthcare industry. She completed her internship at the Northern New Mexico Community College in El Rito where she gained some lifelong friendships with people she keeps in contact with to this day.

Following her internship, she enrolled at University of New Mexico (UNM) in Taos to complete her basic studies while she worked part-time at Taos Clinic for Children and Youth. She then moved to the main UNM campus in Albuquerque to continue her education and began working for a daycare.

She decided to return to Taos, where she began working in the emergency room at Holy Cross Hospital as a receptionist. “I recall my first few days were rough and I thought I wasn’t cut out for the job,” she says. “I stuck with it and decided that I wanted to do more than answer phones, do paperwork and be a translator, so I decided to go to UNM-Taos to obtain my basic Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification.” This is when Cordova found her true passion and calling.

Becoming an EMT helped Cordova build confidence as she continued to work in the emergency room. She went on to become a part-time EMT with Taos County Emergency Medical Services (EMS). After a year working as a basic EMT, Cordova pursued a higher certification moving up to an intermediate EMT with UNM-Taos. “This allowed me to do more patient care, administering medications, and to take better care of my patients at the hospital and in the ambulance,” she says.

Part of working in EMS necessitates being cross-trained in firefighting, especially for northern New Mexico where first responders are in short supply. While Cordova’s experience is mainly in EMS, she has taken on fire training with the Enchanted Circle Academy and the New Mexico Firefighters Training Academy. “At first, I wasn’t interested in firefighting because I didn’t want to run into a burning building, but after my training, I learned it was not as scary as I thought.”

After 15 years at Holy Cross Hospital, Cordova resigned to pursue paramedic school. “At the time, I was working two full-time jobs while going to school. I am a mother and a wife, so it was a heavy load, I knew something had to give.”

In 2017, Cordova graduated with her associate’s degree in medicine and pre-sciences from UNM. She went on to attend Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) in Roswell for 18 months, all while working two full-time jobs and traveling four hours away to attend class. “This was a sacrifice for me and for my family. I am grateful for my support system that allowed me to pursue my calling,” she says.

Cordova went to school three days a week, then traveled home to work in her two jobs. After 18 months, she graduated from paramedic school, and then got an internship in Espanola, where she got experience running a high-volume ambulance service. She completed her program in July of 2018 and has been serving northern New Mexico as a paramedic ever since.

Cordova has worked for Questa Fire and EMS for several years. In 2021, she was promoted to EMS Director for the Village of Questa. In this role, she also handles the billing services for the department. She says she took on this role to save taxpayers money, reducing the need to outsource the billing. She continues to expand her training and learning to ensure she can effectively lead the department to serve the residents in northern Taos County.

“The most fulfilling part of my job is being able to help people on their worst day possible. It may be during a medical episode or during a fire. Being there when they need a familiar face to help them to understand what is happening to their family member or to themselves,” Cordova says. “It always makes me feel good to hear that people feel comfort when I am on scene, or they ask for me when I am not there.”

While Cordova loves her career and is passionate about it, she acknowledges that it’s difficult to respond to calls where she personally knows the victim. “My career has not been filled with favorable calls. I have calls that will stick with me for a lifetime. Sometimes, I am triggered and go back to those haunting times. One of the most difficult things is telling a family that there is nothing more we can do for their loved ones. To feel the grief that I just delivered to them, and also knowing this is the way they may see me from that moment on.”

Through the hard times, Cordova maintains that her career has been rewarding. From delivering babies to seeing patients well and healthy, knowing she helped them when they needed her, she believes she chose the right career path where her colleagues have become her second family.

Cordova, along with her husband, Taos County Fire Chief Michael Cordova, has three beautiful daughters: Kalena, 19, was a junior firefighter with Questa Fire and EMS, Kaylei, 15, and Kynlei, 5. “They have all grown up in the medical field right along with us. There have been times when the call page goes off and they know that mom and dad have to go. They’ve sat in our cars waiting for us to finish our call. There have been many times where I have had to have family pick them up from the scene or elsewhere. We are grateful for our support system. Without them we would not be able to do what we do.”