Fire Science program heats up student training

By Martin Montoya, Staff Reporter

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Teachers and students are fighting blazing fires side by side all thanks to the CNM Fire Science program that offers an array of program concentrations, said Mike Kavanaugh, Fire Science Instructor.
Recent graduate Noelle Gabaldon, said she got her associates in two concentrations through the fire science program at CNM, with one in wildland firefighting and the other in structural firefighting.
“I owe it to CNM, because I think it is the only school in the state that has this fire science program,” Gabaldon said.
With eighteen years of experience fighting wild fires, Brian Henington, Fire Science Instructor, said this will be his fourteenth fall semester teaching at CNM.
Henington first got into wildland firefighting for summer employment, as many CNM students in the Fire Science program do, he said.
“It’s a very competitive field; the training that CNM provides gives them the advantage over the student that doesn’t try to get an associate’s degree,” said Henington.
Kavanaugh said that the Fire Science curriculum has three different associate concentration programs, and these concentrations show employers that students are ready for a higher or supervisory position.
The concentrations students can choose from are wildland and structural firefighting, as well as emergency medical service that is a newly offered focus, added about a year ago, as these three core programs are amongst the most popular fields in fire services, Kavanaugh said.
“I think what is good about our program is that our students after one semester with Brian (Henington) are certified wildland firefighters,” Kavanaugh said.
All over the country fire fighters have been battling wild fires since May and many are tiring and slowing down, as well as fire crews becoming affected by a common sickness called “Camp Crud,” Henington said.
“If one person gets the sickness, the whole crew gets it,” he said.
“Camp Crud” is the result of people from all over the country assembling together and working their bodies into the ground for 14 days straight at 16 hours a day, he said.
The crew’s immune systems get weak and everyone catches horrendous colds, he said.
“To do this you got to be tough, as you can imagine,” he said.
Throughout the fire season, Henington said most of his work was with a fire crew made up of military veterans, two of which are CNM students.
Henington’s fire crew was assigned to attack the Tres Lagunas fire that burned near the Pecos River in the Santa Fe national forest, he said.
According to the Tres Lagunas fire was caused by a downed power line that burned 10,219 acres from the end of May to early June of 2013.
Having been there within hours of the fire starting, the crew’s first objective was to protect the nearby communities, with the biggest community being Holy Ghost, and had an estimated 100 to 140 summer homes, which some were occupied by residents, he said.
Henington said that there was a little over a month of fire activity, with fires getting big very quickly driven by the wind and the impact of the drought.
“If we didn’t get the moisture we did in July, we would probably be burning like Idaho is right now, they are in pretty bad shape,” he said.
The fire science program has had many students throughout its time at CNM and Henington said he ran into many of his students on the fire line or at chow during a fire, yet he was still able to recruit from the fire line future CNM students.
“Several students coming this semester that were not students that I talked to on the fire line are now enrolled in our program,” he said.
With the Fire Science program on the rise and getting CNM students trained and into the work force, Henington said that with any one of the big fires that there was anywhere from 30 to 50 current or graduated CNM students.
Throughout his career Henington said he has worked for both the State Forestry and the State Land Office.
Having several certifications and years of experience, Henington as Incident Commander would primarily be placed on the fire line, but also worked on operations and safety for the veterans crew known as, “VPP1.”
“I was the youngest IC in State Forestry’s history at one time, a long, long time ago,” said Henington.
For more information on the Fire Science associates program go to, or call the program director at (505) 224-4207.

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