In preparation for the upcoming wildfire season, New Mexico Wing Civil Air Patrol signed a letter of understanding with Chaves County last week, making it easier for it to respond to local emergencies.
Authorities say the agreement allows the city of Roswell and Chaves County emergency manager to bypass state channels by directly requesting air support or other emergency services from NMCAP, a civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force that conducts search and rescue missions and disaster relief operations.
â€œThis is going to be such an assistance to us in doing damage assessment or locating emergency situations from the air, so we are really looking forward to the agreement, and welcome it,â€ Teresa Barncastle, Roswell and Chaves County emergency manager, said.
Civil Air Patrol assets were already made available to EMS, Sheriff and local fire and police agencies per a 2009 memorandum of understanding between the Civil Air Patrol New Mexico Wing and the New Mexico Department of Military Affairs.
But, according to Mike Lee, squadron commander for the Roswell NMCAP, called Southwest Region-082 Roswell Composite, in order to request services, one had to â€œclimb the chain of command,â€â€ˆwhich in-cluded calls to him, the wing commander and eventually reaching the National Operating Center, headquartered at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala.
The letter states that any local Chaves County entity can request NMCAP assistance by calling the city of Roswell/Chaves County Office of Emergency Management, who, in turn, will call the Civil Air Patrol National Operations Center, which would assign the mission a number and call NMCAPâ€ˆto activate the operation.
Col. Richard Himebrook, NM Wing Commander, said Roswell is the third county in the state to sign such an agreement, following Lincoln and San Miguel counties. Himebrook added that time is of the essence when dealing with a natural disaster or search and rescue mission.
Lt. Col. David Mac-Lauchlan, director of emergency services of NMCAP, said that the letter of understanding helps â€œspeed up the processâ€ by eliminating paperwork and bureaucratic red tape.
Jon Hitchcock, the sole search and rescue officer for NMCAPâ€™s emergency services, says the â€œreal beautyâ€ of the agreement is that thereâ€™s no likely cost associated with it.
â€œIf the Air Force determines that itâ€™s a mission that they can accept, then itâ€™s covered under their funding and their allocations of funds to us, to the state wing,â€ Hitchcock said. â€œIf they decide to refuse a mission, which has never happened, then the state or the New Mexico wing could accept it as a state mission, and thatâ€™s when they would seek reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs.â€
Lee said there are 16 NMCAP aircraft placed strategically throughout the state to respond to emergencies. SWR-082 Roswell Composite services all of Southeastern New Mexico and has one plane, a Cessna 182. He says the after all the snow Roswell received this winter, grass fires will be a hazard this upcoming spring.
â€œThatâ€™s one of the reasons we really pushed it through,â€ he said.