Photo by Porfirio Chavarria, Santa Fe Fire Department

Nametag reading "Hi, my name is Porfirio Chavarria, Wildland-Urban Interface Specialist, Santa Fe Fire Department, New Mexico. 12 years with Santa Fe Fire Department, 12 years working on FAC"

Has Fire Adapted Communities (FAC) always been a part of your job?

Since working at the Santa Fe Fire Department, FAC has been a part of my job description, even though it has not always been explicitly stated. In 2013, I attended the National Fire Academy’s pilot Wildland-Urban Interface FAC course, where I was introduced to the FAC concept and to the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. I began to view the wildland-urban interface through the fire adapted communities lens. Then, I was involved in the 2015 Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (FAC Net) workshop, which was in Santa Fe. That is where I first met the wonderful, helpful and hardworking people of the FAC Net and the Fire Learning Network.

Who do you see at work?

In any given week, besides my boss and the fire chief, I’ll talk with a homeowner about an issue like a home assessment. Santa Fe Fire Department’s Wildland Fire Division provides individual wildfire risk assessments to homeowners by appointment, and by doing door-to-door outreach. We hire about a dozen seasonal employees every year to perform home assessments, fuels reduction projects, and wildfire response.

I also tend to speak with the Forest Stewards Guild’s Eytan Krasilovsky, Esmé Cadiente, Matt Piccarello and/or Zander Evans about one of our cooperative projects, like a prescribed burn, an upcoming wildfire awareness seminar or the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition (GSFFC).  GSFFC is made up of federal, state, local, non-governmental and private entities and aims to address wildfire resilience in a 107,000-acre area east of Santa Fe. The area provides numerous resources to Santa Fe and its surrounding communities and is, therefore, of great interest to the collaborative.

Most recently, as part of the GSFFC, I have been working with Sandy Hurlocker and Joe Boe, the district ranger and the district fire management officer, respectively, at the Santa Fe National Forest’s Espanola District, on establishing a cost-share agreement. The agreement will provide the Santa Fe Fire Department with funding to coordinate environmental analysis on 5,000 acres of the Santa Fe National Forest. The funding will also allow the Fire Department to establish a Wildfire Ambassadors program, modeled after FireWise of Southwest Colorado’s Neighborhood Ambassador program. We are currently working with FireWise of Southwest Colorado to develop a toolkit about this approach. The funding is also going to support a multi-criteria decision analysis that will develop management strategies involving community input.

Tell us more about GSFFC.

At the end of 2015, Santa Fe’s fire chief and the state forester convened a meeting of partners to establish a collaborative group to work on wildfire issues affecting Santa Fe and its surrounding communities. Using the Cohesive Strategy as an anchor point, we decided to focus on a geographical area that the Forest Stewards Guild proposed, established three task teams (communications, resilience strategy and implementation), and got to work. The current list of partners continues to grow, and we currently have 17 listed on our website, including New Mexico State Forestry, USDA Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy.

In its 18 months of existence, we have initiated 14 fuels reduction projects on public and private land, hosted six public meetings, and have invested over $2 million in projects that will advance resilient landscapes, fire adapted communities projects, as well as effective and safe firefighter response.

What different types of shoes do you wear on the job?

Well, I wear Nick’s hotshot fire boots every day, no matter what. But, I wear several different metaphorical hats throughout my day.

I primarily view myself as a public servant and wildland fire professional, serving the citizens of Santa Fe. I’m a resource that gives landowners/homeowners advice on how to reduce the risk of losing their lives, and properties, to a wildfire. I share my wildfire management experience and relay information on the programs we provide, including green waste pick-ups, community wildfire action plans, Firewise U.S.A., and wildfire and hazardous fuel reduction agreements. I also disseminate information on current events related to wildfire, like scheduled prescribed burns, ongoing wildfires and upcoming forest projects.

Crew loading yard debris into a trailer

Santa Fe handcrew picking up green waste as part of the Annual Community Wildfire Preparedness Day. Credit: Porfirio Chavarria

I’m also a networker. I connect the public with policy makers and other public officials. I bring their concerns to the attention of others and generate solutions through policy, or I explain why current policies are in place. I engage with our partners to accomplish large objectives such as those related to GSFFC, and also smaller ones, like addressing software issues with our GIS department. I’m constantly talking with people inside and outside of government.

I’m also a wildland firefighter, waiting to be called to the next wildfire. I spend at least two weeks each year responding to wildfires here in Santa Fe or anywhere across the country — on a hand crew or a type six engine. I see these stints as opportunities to continue to understand fire behavior and how we, as a nation, are addressing the response. Firefighting is in my roots and going on deployments every year keeps me connected to those roots.

Lastly, I’m a mentor and a mentee. I believe in sharing as much knowledge as I can with others while, hopefully, keeping an open mind. An open mind gives others a chance to share their experiences, opinions and beliefs with me. I constantly want to learn.

Where might your job take you today?

Today, my job could take me on a five-mile hike to a single tree snag that, via a lightning strike, started a wildfire. Or, I could be asked to walk the property of homeowners who have just moved to Santa Fe and learned that their new home is in an area prone to wildfire. I could also, as I did do today, be invited to the local bookstore for coffee to discuss a project with the Santa Fe Watershed Association, a long-standing partner. We have collaborated with them on wildfire planning, education and implementation projects in the past. I might even be headed to Durango or Flagstaff to meet a FAC Net member to exchange ideas regarding landowner/homeowner outreach and engagement.

When you need some inspiration, what FAC accomplishment do you re-live?

When I’m looking for some inspiration, I check out the latest Podio (FAC Net’s online communication portal) posts or read one of the latest FAC Net blogs. There are so many inspiring people in FAC Net; if I tried to list them, I essentially would name everyone in it. I could look to Washington and Oregon regarding their latest learning exchange. The Coalition for the Upper South Platte is always doing something innovative, and our local partner the Forest Stewards Guild continue to inspire me with their youth crews, mitigation efforts and public engagement, for just a few examples.

Work is over; another long but fulfilling day behind you. What’s next?
Porfirio's two daughters sharing a milkshake from the blender.

Porfirio’s two daughters sharing a milkshake from the blender. Credit: Porfirio Chavarria

When I get home, I’m greeted with a kiss and hug from my wife and two daughters, aged 14 and six. I change out of my uniform into a pair of old joggers and a well-worn t-shirt. I grab a beer or a glass of lemonade and sit on the porch, reading a book, while my Australian Shepard mix pants by my side. Then, my youngest daughter begs me to watch her do a flip on the swing set or play monopoly. After I’ve given her some attention, I check on my teenager, who is usually engrossed in watching Manga or drawing an elaborate picture. I end up in the kitchen, helping my wife with dinner and telling her about my latest homeowner experience, or some other interesting event that occurred at work. She tells me about her day and what the kids have going on in their lives. After dinner, once the girls have taken their showers, brushed their teeth, and gone to bed, my wife and I sit on the couch and watch the latest series or movie on Netflix until one of us falls asleep. Usually me. Nothing crazy, or exciting. Just a nice chill evening before I go back to work, where anything could happen.

Any closing remarks for our readers?

FAC Net has shown me that networks have the power to accomplish large, complex goals. I love this network and the people who make it. The connections I have made will follow me no matter where I go; there is always someone able to help regarding just about anything.

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