Veteran firefighters talk about Piedra Fire

Posted at: 05/06/2013 6:13 PM
Updated at: 05/06/2013 6:14 PM
By: Jill Galus, KOB Eyewitness News 4

It was the first significant wildfire this season.  The Piedra Fire burned about 50 acres in the Sandias.

Some of the firefighters on the front line were veterans.

KOB Eyewitness News 4 spoke with some of them Monday about the experience, and how it's preparing them for the inevitable bigger fires this season.

Depending who you talk to, a lot of the veterans have been in the middle of gun fire and battle zones.  While they have never fought a fire until last week, most say, the training comes with a lot of similarities.

"We did see some flames, yeah, a lot of breathing in smoke, ash, things of that nature," Cameron Carpenter, who was part of a 20 member veteran crew who helped fight the Piedra Fire said.

Last week was his first firefighting experience.

"After the military I was looking for something a little more fast-paced," Carpenter said.

When the veteran firefighters are not in the field, they are in a classroom, learning.  Monday, the topic was how to operate chainsaws. 

New Mexico State Forestry instructors teaching the class also saw the veterans in action.

"The way I saw these guys work together and girls work together up on this mountain was very impressive," Instructor Richard Chavez said.  "There's a lot of guys out on that fire line that have a lot of experience and we're putting these guys under us, and we're taking them out to fight these fires."

In addition to professional training, the veterans said, this is a way to continue using skills they already have.

"It's very fast-paced and aggressive, and you have to be ready to dig in deep and put your body to the test to do the work that's necessary," Eric Sifuentes, who served in the army for 7 years, said.

"You're not getting shot at, you don't have to worry about an enemy behind the tree, just a little bit of fire, so nothing we can't handle," Carpenter said.

There are currently 52 veterans who are part of the program.

They will be deployed on an as-needed basis, and in the meantime, will continue training both in and out of the classroom.