Governor Susana Martinez today announced that New Mexico's new military veteran's fire crews will become a permanent program beyond this fire season, following its success during the 2013 fire season. The Governor made the announcement this morning at Rio Grande Nature Center State Park in the bosque at the same location she announced the pilot program last April.
The Veterans Fire Crews Pilot Program trained and employed nearly 40 military veterans as wildland fire hand crews over the summer. Governor Martinez announced today that an executive budget request will be made to provide for 60 slots to train veterans to help fight fires.
"I'm very pleased with the results of this program so far and the great job these men and women continue to do, protecting lives and communities across the state," said Governor Martinez. "It is our plan to move this program forward and expand it as our state continues to face increasing wildfire danger each year."
The pilot program was developed by the New Mexico State Forestry Division, working collaboratively with the New Mexico National Guard and the Departments of Veterans Services and Workforce Solutions to address the need for more wildland firefighters in the state.
Following their first assignment on the Piedra Fire that broke out on the west face of the Sandia Mountains on May 2, the crews were dispatched on 12 additional assignments, including the Tres Lagunas, Thompson Ridge and Silver Fires. Today, a crew of ten firefighters is assigned to help fight the Stable Fire near Jemez. Two additional crews are on their way to the Deschutes National Forest near Redmond, Oregon to assist with new fire starts.
Governor Martinez also lauded the efforts of all the local, state, federal and tribal fire crews that continue to fight fires around New Mexico this season.
Following the announcement, Governor Martinez recognized two New Mexico State Forestry staff members who recently helped firefighters in Arizona following the tragic deaths of 19 firefighters during the Yarnell Hill Fire. The two State Forestry staff members, Socorro District Forester Doug Boykin and Division Fire Prevention and Outreach Program Manager Dan Ware, volunteered to help the Arizona State Forestry Division following the deaths of 19 Hot Shot crewmembers from the Prescott City Fire Department on the Yarnell Hill Fire in July.
"I was deeply saddened by the news of the Granite Mountain Hot Shot crew deaths, especially since just days earlier they had been in New Mexico fighting the Thompson Ridge Fire," said Governor Martinez. "I was pleased that we were able to help Arizona's Forestry Division, their firefighters, and the people of Arizona, in their time of need. Doug Boykin and Dan Ware did an excellent job of representing New Mexico and helping fellow fire staff in a time of crisis."
Both New Mexico State Forestry employees spent two weeks in Arizona in the immediate aftermath of the Yarnell Hill Fire. Boykin was requested to help Arizona fire officials manage their fire program, because their Fire Management Officer was frequently unavailable due to the activities related to fatalities on the Yarnell Fire. He was responsible for coordinating fire suppression efforts on other fires occurring in Arizona, and helped with the investigation by creating a timeline of events beginning when the Yarnell Fire started until the time when a type 1 team took over the fire. Ware helped handle the hundreds of public information inquiries that poured in from throughout the country.
Both New Mexico state employees also helped coordinate the Memorial Service near Phoenix to honor the fallen firefighters following the tragedy. Governor Martinez joined Vice President Joe Biden and other officials at that Memorial Service to offer condolences on behalf of the State of New Mexico. Governor Martinez presented fire officials there with a New Mexico state flag she had ordered flown at half-mast in honor of the 19 fallen wild land firefighters.
Yesterday, Governor Martinez announced the creation of a similar program that will offer opportunities to military veterans to work on movie and television productions in New Mexico. Operation: aleSoundstage is modeled after the Veterans Fire Crew Pilot Program. Both programs have been implemented with the assistance of the New Mexico Department of Veterans' Affairs and the New Mexico Economic Development Department.