ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A statewide program aimed at getting veterans back into the workforce through wildland firefighting is now open to non-veterans.
The Returning Heroes Wildland Firefighter Program was initially signed into legislation to help veterans transition back into civilian life, by providing them with a job similar to the comradery and team aspect that they’re used to.
Now, people as young as 18 years of age can experience the same thing and become a wildland firefighter.
“We kind of were under the belief that this is something that is a great conduit into this type of career field. It was very easy to say not only does this benefit the veteran community, but the overall community, as well as a starting point of a career within wildland fire, forestry and range management, whatever the interest that might be spawned from this program,” said Greg Hesch, Crew Supervisor of the Returning Heroes Wildland Firefighter Program.
Organizers say the program has grown exponentially since 2014 and it has helped nearly 200 veterans.
This year, Hesch says they have 88 firefighters registered. That’s enough to fill three crews.
Organizers say they opened the program up to non-veterans because of a slight dip in veteran participation due to so many opportunities opening up for them, but also so that everyone can explore firefighting as a career.
Some like Jonathan Grassmick, with the Pueblo of Sandia, are taking the training to help them with their current career.
“It’s just going to give me the tools that I need to be able to take care of that aspect of my job and being able to help take care of that property and help the neighbors. If there is a need for a crew to help get on a fire quickly in the area, we can respond quickly, Grassmick, the Director of Ranch Properties for the Pueblo of Sandia said.
Officials say those who sign up for the program could be out in the field in as early as a week. They first must go through the basic wildland firefighter course and pass the physical agility test.
Hesch says there are 15 to 20 veterans employed this season. Currently, there is a crew down at Kerr Fire in Southern New Mexico. Also, earlier this season a crew was sent to North Carolina to assist with a wildfire there.