Contact: Wendel Sloan at 505.562.2253
Reporter: Shelley Gilmore
PORTALES—Eastern New Mexico University graduate student Kayne Gutierrez fights fires during his summer vacation.
While most students are enjoying time away from school, Gutierrez, a 1999 graduate of Reserve High School and from Aragon, N.M., has been fighting fires for the past six summers. In the summer of '99, Gutierrez had a next-door neighbor who is an engine foreman in for the USDA forest service. Gutierrez needed a job for the summer and, through this contact, starting working for the forest service in Luna, N.M.
In the summer of '99 there were many fires in New Mexico. Gutierrez dug trenches, helped with fuel reduction, and thinned out the forest. He was able to travel to Arizona in the summer of 2002 to help with the "Rodeo" fire and was there for 21 days.
Gutierrez has traveled to many states fighting fires, including Washington, Oregon, Arizona, California, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Colorado.
In 2003 he had the opportunity to travel to Bozeman, Mont. By then he had been qualified to be an Incident Commander on a small fire and squad boss who is in charge of 10 people on a big fire.
This summer Gutierrez was in Jackson Hole, Wyo., working in the Grand Tetons as a "helitack." He would repel 250 feet out of a helicopter for small fire suppressions (10 acres or less) and large fire support to set up base camps so 12-20 helicopters could bring in supplies to crews. On large fires he would repel and cut a heli-spot out of a big area of trees so that the helicopters could land.
"Sometimes you can't drive to the fire, so the helicopters bring crews in," he said. After repelling off the helicopter he would have to walk back to a location where he could be picked up. "It was hard work, packing 104 pounds and hiking eight miles," Gutierrez says. "Helitack is the most fun; how often do people get to ride in a helicopter? It's not as dangerous as people think; it's an adrenaline rush."
Aside from repelling out of helicopters, Gutierrez was able to participate in search and rescue missions, assisted Game and Fish by doing animal surveys, and started fires to achieve resource management goals. "I get to meet different people, see the country and I got paid to do it."
In high school Gutierrez was involved in many activities, including student council president, Business Professionals of America, football, track and manager of the girls' basketball team. He played football for ENMU from 1999–2002. What keeps him busy during the fall and spring is officiating football, basketball and baseball for the New Mexico Activities Association.
Gutierrez, a sports administration major, plans to work in athletics and be a wildland fire fighter for two or three more summers. He is looking forward to the next summer vacation.
Kayne Gutierrez repelling from a helicoptor