Photo Credit: Wildfire Network’s Krys Nystrom training youth in the lost art of refolding a practice shelter. Photo by Krista Bonfantine, Arid Land Innovation
How did you start working on FAC?
I started working on fire adapted communities (FAC) at the Santa Fe County Fire Department (SFCFD) in 2008. I was hired as a temporary fuels crew member under a New Mexico Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (NM CFRP) grant, and eventually I moved into a position that focused on public outreach and prevention. A few years later, I managed to get on the NM CFRP review panel and have served on that for the last five years, reviewing planning, biomass utilization and implementation project proposals for work on public lands in New Mexico. This has been a great learning experience for me (as well as way out of my comfort zone), and it was a big part of my decision to start my own thing. While NM CFRP focuses on public lands, I felt like I could somewhat mimic the collaborative nature of it regarding projects on private lands. Another big FAC accomplishment was an invitation from the Forest Stewards Guild to become a partner in the FAC Network as a member of the Santa Fe contingent, through which I got to meet and mingle with many of you fine folks.
I left the Santa Fe County Fire Department in 2015 to start the Wildfire Network, a nonprofit focusing on firefighter safety and training, public education, and at-risk youth forestry and fire-related job training.
Can you tell us about your experience with homeowner risk modeling and outreach?
When I was working for SFCFD, I developed a customized version of several states’ home assessment checklists, a database to hold them, and a way to display them on the website I created for the county’s wildland division. SFCFD was approached by Simtable (a business that developed a virtual “sand table” modeling tool). Simtable gave our department a table to help us model fires as a tool for engaging people in conversations about potential fire scenarios. The department let me play with it, and I figured out a way to display all of our home assessment data on it. We then brought it to at least 30 community meetings. It became a literally jaw-dropping visual for residents as they watched fire simulations “burn” through their neighborhoods. It’s an awesome outreach tool. I’ve been working with the developer of that tool ever since and will be demonstrating it at the National Fire Protection Association’s annual conference this year.
When you get to work on Monday morning, what are your top priorities for the week?
Surviving it. Being a hard-core glutton for punishment is a job all by itself. Whether it’s my apparent belief that other humans (and dogs, for that matter) listen to me or the reality that my 300,000 mile Dodge Cummins will at some point this week require my undivided attention underneath it, Monday always seems to be the day that spoils Friday’s two steps forward. The priority is always to figure out which wall to bang my head against. But, once an iota of sense is knocked into my head, I get to down to trying more steps to see what will get me just a little bit further. This whole nonprofit thing is brand new to me, so I’m learning as I go.
Are you working on any projects that involve a large group of partners?
The Wildfire Network is creating program with Santa Fe Youthworks, to train youth in forest restoration. Their training will cover pre-treatment monitoring, selection and tagging, harvesting, utilization and post-treatment monitoring. The harvested piñon pine and juniper will be sent to a contractor who will chip and compost it. The compost will then be used in the greenhouse for Santa Fe Youthworks’ culinary program. While the youth are on the mitigation site, the monitoring process will be taught by Arid Land Innovation (a local environmental firm), and the youth will collect the data. Land management and erosion control techniques will be taught on the ground by a local land management business, Ecotone. If this proves successful, Santa Fe Community College will provide more in-depth land management classes for the youth, and potentially certificates of some sort. This program has funding from the City of Santa Fe, FAC Net and private homeowners.
Who might you see in person?
I might see a group of youth, homeowners or partners. If it’s youth, we might be working on a thinning job that is instigated by Ecotone, the aforementioned business. The students get great training experience piling materials as swampers, as well as erosion control training during projects like that.
Or, homeowners within the county may ask me to look at their property or want to update me on mitigation work that they have done. Other times I may be trying to coordinate different grant programs for a project that combines youth training with a private land management project, or collaborating with contractors.
What different types of shoes do you wear on the job?
Boots: Almost every task is associated with boots, and I have the ugly feet from the bad pairs to prove it. In those, I might be examining a property with a homeowner to figure out ways to reduce its risk, or I might be on a thinning project, working with youth to thin diseased and overstocked trees and utilizing the slash for erosion control. Other times, I may wear them during a “community wood day” while facilitating the distribution of firewood to community members.
Soft, cushy, fuzzy booties: The dreaded computer work.
Where might your job take you today?
Lake Tahoe for the FAC Net annual workshop! One place on the bucket list that can get crossed off. I value the opportunity to drive to conferences, annual meetings and partner meetings, as it affords me a spectacular view of the country. Once at the meeting, I find that listening to others’ experiences and new ideas is really helpful in thinking about how I can adapt them to the people and places I work around. Remembering FAC Net’s first kick-off meeting in Idaho, it amazes me each year to see how much the network has grown and adapted to its members’ needs. Pretty cool stuff.
When you get back to your desk, what unexpected thing has come up that needs your attention?
Finding the granny glasses that one of my dogs has probably stolen off my desk. Once found, there are CFRP proposals to read and score (I was reviewing the grants the week after the FAC Net meeting). There are many public comments either in support of or against certain proposals that I need to digest. Other priorities are seeing how recruiting is going for an upcoming Youth Conservation Corps project and staying up-to-date on the progress of the grant that will support a job training program. Then, a pop-up on my screen tells me my handouts are due for the NFPA conference in June, and I wonder where the inspiration for that will come from. It always comes, just at the last minute. Then there’s the call of the outdoors. I have to take the dogs out and enjoy it for a while. And I always seem to have one saw on the bench that needs something …
When a Monday rolls around and you’re not working (because you’ve retired!), and you’re wrapping up writing your FAC memoir. What will your last sentence be?
I did it.
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