Los Pinos partners with Higher Education for internship oppertunities

Los Pinos Firefighters, Heather Chesser and Kevin Griego work together to test hoses and perform ladder-training exercises on Monday, Oct. 23 aboard Ladder Truck 81.
Firefighter/EMT Heather Chesser, Captain Seth St. Germain, Firefighter/Intermediate, Kevin Griego, and Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Ratzman stand together with Adult Education Program Manager, Dr. Jonathan Hunstiger (center) on Monday, Oct 23.
Aspects of the program include a mix of classroom education combined with real world onsite training over a two year period. Team members work together, and earn their place as part of the Los Pinos firefighting company.
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum


The Southern Ute Education Department has teamed up with Los Pinos Fire District to implement a one of a kind internship program for Southern Ute tribal members with career interests in the field of firefighting.

“It’s literally all facets of firefighting,” Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Ratzman said. “This is a sponsored, paid position through the Southern Ute Education Department. If the youth excel in this program; ten years from now they can be a captain, or fire chief.”

This is a hybrid program, explained Dr. Jonathan Hunstiger, adult education program manager with Higher Education for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe; part scholarship, part internship. “It’s unique,” he said.

“The committee would interview to see who fit into the program and sign a contract,” Hunstiger said. The contract stipulates that if they do not complete the schooling, or the program, then a repayment agreement takes effect. Thus creating a level of accountability for those who choose to enter the program.

“I think this is good for the community and will focus [the interns] in a positive direction,” Ratzman said. “I want to make sure that people also understand that this is not just for youth.” The program is open to any eligible participant over the age of 18.

The internship has a few basic requirements: participants must complete a background check, have no criminal record, by over 18 years of age and be an enrolled member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. There would be seven months of classroom time, which is spread throughout the two-year program. Los Pinos is in turn providing gear, tools and on the job experience. The aspects are hands on training, combined with fieldwork.

The position provides actual real world experience and interns would be an integral part of the team. During weekly shifts, interns would bunk at the firehouse in Ignacio and be ‘on call.’

In 2016, 51 percent of all Los Pinos Fire District calls pertained to Southern Utes tribal members or households.

“It’s important to understand what cultural aspects might be tied to this position, based on the community,” Hunstiger said. There are clear advantages to having a tribal member as part of the firefighting community, explained the fire station’s Deputy Chief; Ratzman welcomes the opportunity to work alongside someone with in depth knowledge of the Native American community, and it’s culture.

“Once applicants are accepted into the program, they would be expected to preform like any other employee,” Hunstiger said.

“This is a huge responsibility, the trust of the community and peoples lives are at stake,” Ratzman said, “I want the best fire department we can have.” The team members work together, and earn their place as part of the Los Pinos firefighting company.

The interns, once accredited, could continue their careers in Southwest Colorado, working as EMT’s, paramedics or wildland firefighters. They could go on to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), apply to work as Federal firefighters, or as Denver area metropolitan firefighters. “That has huge potential in getting a job,” Ratzman said. “Denver alone is currently hiring 600 firefighters.”

The internship program is IFSAC accredited, which is a National accreditation; accepted in approximately 40 states across the U.S.

The program does not yet have a definitive start date, but is set to begin by Jan. 1; immediate enrollment is encouraged. The ideal scenario would be to have six interns at the same time, explained program coordinators, Hunstiger and Ratzman.

“My goal is to catch these kids while they are young; get them into a career that I love and that can help so many people,” Ratzman said.


Contact Dr. Jonathan Hunstiger, Adult Education Manager for more information.

Phone: 970-563-2784

Email: jhunstiger@southernute-nsn.gov


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