Written by Carlos Saiz
I am the Southwest Fire and Fuels Coordinator for the Forest Stewards Guild. My journey in this field started a decade ago with the City of Santa Fe Fire Department (SFFD). The SFFD mainly deals with structural fire suppression and Emergency Medical Services (EMS); however, in the early 2000’s, The Wildland Atalaya Hand Crew was formed, and that’s where I came in.
After graduating from New Mexico State University (NMSU), I moved back to my hometown in Santa Fe, NM and started on a seasonal hand crew for Atalaya Wildland Division. 6 months out of the year, our team would participate in both wildfire suppression and mitigation efforts. A handful of us even went through an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification process to be eligible to go out as a REM (Rapid Extraction Module) which is a medical/rescue team dedicated to wildfires and their resources. This would have been the first in the state. In the off-seasons, my duties consisted of sawyer work and thinning projects with private contractors. Although I was not with Atalaya full time at this point, my mitigation work continued.
After 5 years of seasonal work and hiking with a chainsaw draped over my shoulder, I was promoted to one of three squad bosses on the crew. The next 5 years were spent supervising firefighters during the wildfire seasons. When fire wasn’t in the air, my role was different. Along with my main duties to the crew, helped our WUI (Wildland Urban Interface) Specialist in running local mitigation programs for city residents. This role consisted of performing home hazard assessments, leading fire hazard mitigations projects, and public outreach. Although my time with the Atalaya Hand Crew came to an end, it led me to my passion, helping my community in fire resiliency. The Forest Stewards Guild has graciously given me the opportunity to continue to do so.