Firefighting courses return to Southern Ute Agency

BIA Engine Captain, Corey Francis (left) takes a group of trainees out for practice using water pumps on location in Ignacio. The 2019 Four Corners Wildland Fire Academy was hosted in partnership between the BIA Southern Ute Agency’s Forestry/Fire Management and Los Pinos Fire District.
Southern Ute Forestry Technician Cameron Standing leads a team of trainees in a fire hose exercise outside of the BIA headquarters in 2019 as part of the Four Corners Wildland Fire Academy.
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum

The Four Corners Wildland Fire Academy returns to Ignacio in March; the weeklong training is held at a different location in the Four Corners region each year. Specific courses offered this spring will include: Firefighter Training, Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior, and Wildland Fire Chainsaws.

This is a great opportunity for tribal members, or anyone else explained Howard Richards Jr., Assistant Fire Management Officer for the BIA Southern Ute Agency, “This is an opportunity to pursue a career. They [trainees] are not committed to us, we are not committed to them — but it gets them a foot in the door if a job opens here or at another agency.”

The courses are taught by the Southern Ute Agency and tribal personnel. The program is free of charge, but applicants must be over 18 years of age.

The Four Corners Wildland Fire Academy came about eight years ago with a 130-190 recruitment push from Fort Lewis College. “Many of the trainees started that year and got GS, or Forestry Technician jobs and stuck it out,” Richards explained. Cory Frances and Dillon Hamilton work with us at Southern Ute Agency to this day. A few others went on to work with the Navajo Hotshots, he stated. “Seth Roubidoux started out with the Four Corners Academy and worked with BIA Fire, Southern Ute Agency for over a year before moving on.”

“One of the problems is the cost of living around here, especially for those who aren’t from the area,” Richards said. “I want to get back to where we were before, and one day I would like to see the engines filled with all Native firefighters. In ’94 we had three Type 6 Fire Engines, all of them were fully manned, some with tribal members.”

The 130-190 is a basic firefighter course which takes place from March 25 —29. The full academy is a week-long program, March 25 — April 1.

Once complete, certificates allow trainees to get paid fighting fires regionally. “Most of the AD’s are $18.96 per hour, like a basic firefighter, some shifts are 10-16 hours. Depending on the size and complexity of a fire, it could be a couple of overnights before we get it mopped up — cleaned up.”

“Abel Velasquez at the SunUte [Community Center] came up with a small workout plan, tailored to firefighting. It is a good idea to be in shape,” Richards emphasized. “Every year there is a pack test and physical”

Richards is currently working on furthering his own education by pursuing a degree in his field, taking courses at Northern Arizona University (NAU), which he will finish next spring. His 401 Series for Fire Ecology and Management Certificate will enable him to move even further up the chain of command and take on top positions in management, while opening up more opportunities for career advancement.

Richards encourages tribal members to reach out to himself or the So. Ute Agency ahead of the course to ask questions. He can help them gain a clear understanding of the what the academy entails and what a career in firefighting is really like based on years of experience in the field.

“Give it a try, give it a shot,” Richards emphasized. “That’s how I got my start, and I made a career out of it.”

Contact Howard Richards Jr. by phone (970) 563-4571 or register online at:






Like it? Share it!