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CNM Teaching Wildfire Classes Across the State to Keep Volunteer Firefighters Skilled and Safe

The college has already provided over 12,000 hours of training
CNM Teaching Wildfire Classes Across the State to Keep Volunteer Firefighters Skilled and Safe
Suzie Fowler-Tutt on a wildland fire near Abiquiu.

Jun 16, 2021

After retiring from the U.S. Navy, Suzie Fowler-Tutt found herself missing the adrenalin and camaraderie of the armed services. It was hard adapting to the pace of civilian life. But then she joined the Abiquiu Volunteer Fire Department (she retired in Abiquiu) and once again felt she belonged. She loved being able to help her community and thrived out on wildfires. 

“I do my best work under pressure,” says Suzie, who’s currently the Deputy Chief for Abiquiu. ”And wildfires present a lot of variability because they’re so big and susceptible to weather changes.” 

Suzie never went through a fire academy, but she’s one of many volunteers in New Mexico who has benefited from free National Wildfire Coordinating Group wildland fire classes taught by CNM. She’s taken classes on everything from fire behavior to portable pumps, and says it’s been an important asset.

“To be honest, it’s been a gold mine,” she says. 

The fire classes are taught by CNM instructors who are active wildland firefighters themselves and they maintain rigorous industry qualifications. The classes are co-sponsored and funded by the New Mexico Energy Mineral Natural Resources Department State Forestry Division, and the U.S. Forestry Service through the USDA Cooperative Forestry Assistance Grant. To date, CNM’s wildland fire-qualified instructors have issued approximately 800 National Wildfire Coordinating Group certificates to volunteers like Suzie. In total, the instructors have provided about 12,000 hours of training since 2018. 

Classes normally take place at local fire stations so the volunteers can come in on weekends and use their own equipment, and CNM's instructors travel to stations throughout the state. During COVID-19, the lectures took place online and were supplemented by hands-on practice at the stations in small groups. The classes are now transitioning back to in-person. 

The most most requested classes include:

  • Basic Wildland Firefighter training
  • Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher 
  • Portable Pumps and Water Usage
  • Fire Operations in the Wildland/Urban Interface

Suzie says her classes have been immediately helpful. In fact, after taking the Portable Pumps class earlier this year, a fire broke out the very next day that required her and another volunteer to place a portable pump in the nearby Chama river in order to draw water.  

“Right after we finished the class, a 71-acre wildfire started in Hernandez and we were immediately able to use what we had learned,” she says. “That was the coolest thing. You can go for a year or two without having a situation where you put the training into practice and we got to do it immediately.”

Angela Poppe of CNM oversaw the training program for several years and worked closely with the State Forestry Program Coordinator and the District Fire Management Officers (FMOs) to organize the classes they requested. She says she’s proud of the support the college has provided to rural volunteer fire departments that are on the front lines of wildland fires. 

“As a college we’re particularly well-suited to offer these classes because we have an entire educational institution behind us,” she says. “And we’re proud to be helping these volunteers who are absolutely necessary for the public safety of our state.”

Suzie says couldn’t agree more.

“Here in Rio Arriba country we go from Española to the Colorado border, and volunteers cover a lot of that territory. We’re all here to help each other out and keep the community safe,” she says. 

The NWCG Wildland firefighter classes completed through the CNM agreement with State Forestry can be applied as credit for prior learning (CPL) towards CNM's Fire Academy, the Fire Science associate degree, and/or the Wildland Firefighter Type 1 Certificate of Completion. Anyone interested in serving their communities as volunteer wildland firefighters should contact their local fire department.