Governor wants to make veteran firefighters permanent

Posted at: 08/02/2013 5:19 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

It was a trial by fire – and they passed with flying colors.

It looks like New Mexico’s fire crews made up of military veterans are going to be around for a long time. Gov. Susana Martinez wants to make this year’s pilot project a permanent deal. On Friday she announced that she would put funding for training and maintaining the veteran crews in the state budget, and expand their ranks from 40 to 60.

It all started this spring with intensive training in the basic arts of firefighting and survival. Then the veterans went into action on 13 fire deployments. The tight teamwork required on firefighting crews turned out to be second nature for soldiers and sailors.

Brian Philips served in Iraq with the Army.

“I kind of joined this program not knowing really what it was all about,” Philips said. “After the first fire, which was the Piedra fire up in the Sandias, I just fell in love with it right away. It’s a really good program. We have great crew bosses that we trust one hundred percent.”

Craig Byrd served with the Army during the Vietnam era. He’s the oldest of the veteran firefighters.

“There’s the structure of working together and recognizing a chain of command and watching out for each other,” Byrd said. “These are all real important qualities that military service builds and they definitely translate to firefighting.”

“It absolutely worked the way that we thought it would,” said Gov. Martinez. “Many of the firefighters did not have a job and then they did have a job with the Forestry Department, when they were being called out to the various fires that we experienced in New Mexico. So they had a job, they were getting paid, and they were trained.”

On Friday, a crew of ten veteran firefighters was fighting the Stable fire in the Jemez Mountains. Two more teams were on their way to fight wildfires in Oregon.