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New Concentration in Wildland Firefighting Debuts

An aging core of firefighters nationwide, a steady demand for firefighters in New Mexico and a growing need to train more firefighters in the dangerous work of fighting mammoth wildfires like the Las Conchas fire has led to the creation of a new degree concentration at CNM.

Aug 31, 2016

July 2011

Wildfire Fighting Program
An aging core of firefighters nationwide, a steady demand for firefighters in New Mexico and a growing need to train more firefighters in the dangerous work of fighting mammoth wildfires like the Las Conchas fire has led to the creation of a new degree concentration at CNM.

Beginning with the fall term, CNM's longstanding Associate of Applied Science Degree in Fire Science will now have a concentration in Wildland Firefighting.

"The regional office (of the U.S. Forest Service) has told us that 60 percent of forestry personnel will be retiring in the next few years," said Mike Kavanaugh, chair of CNM's Fire Science program. "There is very high demand for wildland firefighters right now. That's why we're starting this concentration."

For many years, CNM has offered a wildland firefighting course that, upon successful completion, earns a student basic national certifications to gain seasonal employment working on wildfires. The new concentration in Wildland Firefighting will allow CNM graduates to compete for more coveted, full-time firefighting positions.

"The more training a student gets, the more marketable and competitive they'll be for good jobs," said Brian Henington, a CNM Wildland Firefighting instructor who has helped fight hundreds of wildfires around the country. "Our students, they're looking to be full-time firefighters. If a student's serious about getting a (wildland firefighting) job, there are jobs out there with federal and state agencies, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Wildfire Fighting
"Most of our students want to go to the Albuquerque Fire Department or the Rio Rancho Fire Department. But AFD and RRFD are also looking for more firefighters with wildland degrees."

CNM, which also offers a concentration in Structural Firefighting, hasn't been offering wildland firefighting courses in summer terms because many of the students take seasonal jobs fighting wildfires in New Mexico and in other western states.

"There are quite a few of our students out on the Las Conchas fire, without a doubt," said Henington, who also works at the State Land Office managing prescribed burns. "Our program has a good reputation."

Henington says the No. 1 priority of the CNM Fire Science program "is always safety."

"We try to go well beyond what a text book can teach," he said. "We use videos of fires and group exercises. We give students mock scenarios, like a bosque fire. We provide them with all the different elements that might be going on, like weather factors, and they have to analyze the situation and determine how they would deploy resources.

"In our more advanced classes, we do critical analysis of fires that have taken the lives of firefighters and what could have been done to avoid mistakes. We analyze the South Canyon Fire (from 1994 near Glenwood Springs, Colo.) that killed 14 elite firefighters. There were so many mistakes made on that fire and we make our students understand what went wrong."

Of course, fighting forest fires like those that are currently raging across drought-ravaged New Mexico is not for the faint of heart.

"I tell my students, No. 1, this is hard work," Henington said. "You might have some down time, but when it's time to fight a fire, you're grinding it out for 16 hours a day. With a fire like the Las Conchas fire, you might be working 14 days on, two days off."

CNM's Fire Science program has about 600 students, making it the biggest in the state.

"We're striving to produce the safest, most professional and effective firefighters in New Mexico," Henington said.

Ready, Set, Go -- Tips for Preparing or Responding to a Wildfire Threat

READY

  • Take personal responsibility and prepare before a wildland fire threatens your home.
  • Create defensible space around your home by clearing brush away from your home.
  • Use fire-resistant landscaping and protect your home with fire-safe construction measures. Assemble emergency supplies and belongings in a safe and accessible spot. Plan escape routes.
  • Make sure everybody residing in your home knows the plan of action.


SET

  • Act immediately if there is a threat of a fire moving toward your home. Pack your vehicle with emergency items and remember the "Six P's" – people, personal computers, pets, pills (prescription medication), papers and pictures.
  • Stay aware of the latest news and information on the fire from local media and your local fire department.

GO

  • Leave early! And follow your action plan. Leaving early will not only support your safety, but it will allow firefighters to best maneuver resources to combat the fire.

For more information and precautions regarding smoke, visit the New Mexico Environment Department's web page that contains up-to-date information on air quality and health precautions if smoke is drifting into your area.