Author: Lessa Peter
Previously based in Mescalero, NM, the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Vulcan Peak Helitack program is now successfully operational from its new location in Albuquerque, NM, as of April 2022. Since moving the program from Mescalero, NM, staff were hired, training and qualifications were achieved, and a 6-person helitack crew was reestablished.
“The program needed a fresh start,” said George Violante, BIA Wildland Fire Management’s Acting, Assistant National Aviation Manager. “Moving the program from Mescalero to Albuquerque provides crewmembers adequate and affordable housing opportunities and training to gain necessary qualifications. The BIA was also better positioned to fill critical crew positions with experienced staff.”
BIA Southwest Regional Fire Management staff dedicated $398,000 of preparedness funding or crew staffing. Newly hired Vulcan Peak Crew Supervisor, Eric Holzem, and Assistant Crew Supervisor, Drew Knee, were instrumental in recruiting experienced applicants for the program.
As soon as positions were filled and qualifications achieved, Vulcan Peak Helitack crew were able to respond to the McBride Fire in Ruidoso, NM, on April 19. The crew continued to support wildland fire management efforts throughout the 2022 season in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Oklahoma, and California.
Moving the program to Double Eagle II Airport where they could also be mobilized as a national resource through the Southwest Coordination Center was integral to the success of the crew’s first fire season. The crew received positive feedback from fire assignment duty officers throughout the season who welcomed the BIA’s support of interagency helitack needs. By supporting interagency needs, crewmembers were given opportunities that allowed them to obtain leadership qualifications, which in turn produced helibase managers and trainees for three separate helibases, one of the major strengths of BIA’s aviation program.
“Moving forward we would like Vulcan Peak Helitack to be BIA’s first STEP (Single-Skid Toe-in, and Hover Exit/Entry Program) platform, which is when a helicopter closely hovers to the ground for personnel to exit or enter the aircraft” said Violante when asked what the crew’s future is. “The crew’s success this year sets the stage for regional and national approval. BIA looks forward to partnering with our interagency partner helitack crews in the future, so our crewmembers get the advanced training and mentorship this level of service requires.”
Boise, ID 83705