N.M. announces program to put veterans to work as wildland firefighters

Posted: Apr 5, 2013

Written by

April Reese, Greenwire

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) today announced a new state program that will train military veterans as wildland firefighters.

The pilot program will recruit 40 veterans, who will be placed on four fire crews available to fight wildfires across the state. The new program is a collaborative effort among the New Mexico State Forestry Division, the Department of Veterans' Services and the New Mexico Workforce Connection.

"It's a way to specifically give back to the veterans, give them an opportunity to get jobs, especially where they're needed on seasonal wildfires," said Jim Winchester, a spokesman for the Forestry Division, which proposed the idea to the governor. After completing their firefighting certification requirements, the veterans will also be qualified to get full-time positions at fire stations around the state, he added.

Funding will come from the existing annual federal and state allocation for firefighting, Winchester said.

In addition to putting more veterans to work, the program will also help ensure there are enough wildland firefighters available to battle blazes this summer as officials brace for another intense wildfire season.

"Every year there's a large turnover because a lot of these folks are seasonal," Winchester said. "And many of them have full-time positions at fire stations. Seasonal [workers] are always something we're looking for, especially with the wildfires we've been having lately."

The Forestry Division is in the process of vetting recruits and has "gotten a very strong response," Winchester added.

Arizona, California and Colorado have similar programs.

New Mexico, which is in the midst of a prolonged drought, could be in for an active wildfire season, Martinez said.

"Across New Mexico, we have seen ongoing drought and another dry winter," she said in a statement. "Conditions are in place for a potentially difficult fire season."

Last summer, the Whitewater Baldy fire complex burned almost 300,000 acres, making it the largest wildfire in the state's history.

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