State offers $1 million for voluntary wildfire protection

Ten years as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician with a Central New Mexico Volunteer Fire Department gave Robert Brown the first-hand knowledge needed to help volunteer firefighters across the state.

Brown is the Voluntary Fire Assistance (VFA) Program Manager for the State Forestry Division of the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources (EMNRD) and has encouraged the services of Rural fires supporting populations of less than 10,000 people apply for nearly one million dollars in grants that are provided by the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USDA FS).

In 2022, a total of 24 rural fire departments received more than $358,000 under the VFA program, reads an REMDR press release.

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The VFA has focused on building the organizational capacity of local government to respond to wildfires by equipping rural fire departments with the necessary tools, education and equipment, the press release said.

Brown served with the Tome Adelino Fire Department in Valencia County from 2001 to 2010. He was also a seasonal firefighter with the USDA FS in the Magdalena Ranger District for four years.

Brown said the grants could be seen as a morale boost for volunteer firefighters looking for new members.

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“Volunteer fire departments across America are suffering from low attendance. The average age of a volunteer fire department is 50+. Having this funding available to our fire departments is very important to me to help create some excitement about being a volunteer fire department (firefighter),” he said.

Brown said departments that applied would receive $20,000 from the VFA.

“You can do a lot with $20,000 to buy new helmets and accessories to help fight fires with the volunteer firefighters. This money can hopefully boost morale and hopefully increase firefighter recruitment and retention,” he said.

“These fire departments are our first line of defense to prevent a catastrophic wildfire from destroying communities and causing loss of life. They need our support and the VFA grant gives them that,” she said.

Lincoln County Fire and Emergency Services Director JP Kemore has hosted VFA grants in the past.

In 2021, the grants supported seven volunteer districts and 13 fire stations in an area of ​​4,830 square miles, the REMDR press release quoted.

Fourteen wildfires have burned in New Mexico this year, according to data from the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (NMDHSEM).

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Downed power lines earlier this year sparked two fires that scorched nearly 7,000 acres in Lincoln County.

The McBride Fire burned 6,159 acres along Gavilan Canyon in the village of Ruidoso on April 12. Two people died in the fire and 207 structures were lost.

The fire has spread to the State Forest and Lincoln National Forest lands.

The Nogal Canyon Fire west of Capitan burned 412 acres and 14 structures on April 12. No fatalities or injuries were reported, according to nmfireinfo.com.

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Kenmore said the grant money was used to replace firefighting equipment that could be damaged in a firefight.

“The funds enable us to purchase personal protective equipment, tools, radios and GPS technology which are essential to keep our staff safe in the event of a wildfire,” he said.

“It’s a great help when certain budgets are limited when you can get extra items to keep you safe,” Kenmore said.

Interested parties have until September 30 to apply for a VFA grant by contacting Brown at 505-476-3348.

Mike Smith can be reached at 575-628-5546 or by email at MSmith@currentargus.com or @ArgusMichae on Twitter.

Donald E. Patel