Firefighter missing in New Mexico

(UPDATED at 6:18 p.m. MDT, September 6, 2013)

The body of Engine Captain Token Adams was found today. At 11:45 a.m. searchers discovered his remains about one-quarter mile from the nearest road. In a video about this development at KRQE, the reporter said there was an apparent crash of the ATV and that Captain Adams had been wearing full protective gear, but the exact cause of death has not been determined.

Below is an announcement issued Friday afternoon by the Incident Management Team managing the search organization:

Friday September 6 2013 – 4:45 pm

We are sad to announce that the body of Jemez Ranger District Engine Captain Token Adams has been located. Token was dispatched to locate a smoke reported on Friday August 30 2013. Search efforts began late Friday afternoon and continued through this morning when his body was discovered.

Token was an Engine Captain working in Jemez Springs NM. He was 41 years old and had been an Engine Captain on the Jemez Ranger District for 1 ½ years. He was a wildland firefighter for 10 years including previous experience as a hotshot. Before coming to the Forest Service Token served in the U.S. Navy. Token grew up in the community of Coarsegold California and was a 1990 graduate of Yosemite High School in Oakhurst California.

Token is survived by his wife Heidi a 3 year old son Tristan his mother a brother and sister. Token’s wife Heidi is expecting their second child.

All public and media are asked to please respect the privacy of the firefighter’s family during this time of mourning. We will release all details of this tragedy when more information becomes available.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family and co-workers of Capain Adams.


(UPDATED at 7:45 a.m. MDT, September 6, 2013)

There is not much new to report on the search for missing firefighter Token Adams. The incident management team has released a missing person’s flyer, which contains the following information:

Santa Fe National Forest requests your assistance in locating this person.
Search Subject: Token Adams
Age: 41
Height: 5’ 11″
Weight: 165
Hair: Peppered
Eyes: Wearing black sunglasses
Last seen wearing long sleeve yellow nomex shirt, green nomex pants, and lace up brown leather wildland fire boots. Last seen in the area of Holiday Mesa off Forest Service road 608 on Friday, 8/30/13. Mr. Adams was seen riding a red Polaris 400 ATV while investigating a possible fire start when he disappeared.
If you were in the area of Holiday Mesa and Stable Mesa on or after August 30th and may have seen this individual, please contact the Forest Service at 505-438-5600.


(UPDATED at 10:35 a.m. MDT, September 5, 2013)

Searchers are still looking for U.S. Forest Service engine captain Token Adams who was last seen Friday, August 30, as he boarded an ATV to attempt to locate a smoke that had been reported on the Santa Fe National Forest in northern New Mexico.

The mother of Token Adams, Letake Anderson, visited the Incident Base Camp Thursday morning. She spoke to search crews and thanked them for their hard work.

A Firewatch Cobra helicopter is scheduled to arrive today to provide additional support for the search team. This specialized helicopter has cameras as well as infrared and low-light sensors and can transmit images to search crews up to 30 miles away.

Firewatch Cobra helicopter N107Z
Firewatch Cobra N107Z on Bar Complex. USFS photo.

More information about the Firewatch Cobra.


(UPDATED at 11:40 a.m. MDT, September 4, 2013)

The search and rescue operation continues today, looking for Engine Captain Token Adams who disappeared Friday. Captain Adams has not been heard from since he departed on an ATV trying  to find a fire that had been reported in the Santa Fe National Forest in northern New Mexico.

Joe Reinarz’s Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command of search efforts Wednesday morning as part of a unified command and will oversee the organization in coordination with the New Mexico State Police.


(UPDATED at 12:47 p.m. MDT, September 3, 2013)

Token Adams
Token Adams, USFS photo

Rain on Sunday and Monday hampered the search for Engine Captain Token Adams. The 250 personnel involved in the search are traversing topography described as extreme with sheer cliffs.

Despite the grid pattern being used by the professional and dedicated personnel on the incident, their efforts have not been successful. Searchers are using GPS as part of this grid pattern and are being asked to report their locations hourly. Searchers will focus Tuesday on determining that certain areas have been fully searched.

Weather predictions for today and tonight are for a 60% chance of showers and thunderstorms which will once again affect both air and ground operations.

HERE is a link to a map of the area being searched, but be advised it is a huge 19Mb file and will take a while to download.


(UPDATED at 8:23 a.m. MDT September 3, 2013)

A Southwest Type 1 Incident Management Type, with Incident Commander Joe Reinarz, will assume command of the search efforts Wednesday morning at 6:00 a.m. for missing firefighter Token Adams. The team will begin in-briefing at noon Tuesday, September 3.

Mr. Adams is 41 years old and is an engine captain with the U.S. Forest Service and a former Hotshot. He is married with one son, and is expecting another child in less than a month.


(Originally published at 2:27 p.m. MDT Monday, September 2, 2013)

A wildland firefighter sent out to look for a fire has been missing since Friday August 30. Token Adams was one of three people that were dispatched to a report of a smoke in the Schoolhouse Mesa area on the Jemez Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest in northern New Mexico. When they arrived in the general area Mr. Adams went off by himself on an all terrain vehicle to attempt to locate the smoke. He did not return as expected to the meeting point.

John Helmich, a spokesperson for the Santa Fe National Forest, told us on Monday that when Mr. Adams was first outbound to look for the smoke late in the day on Friday he called his wife on his cell phone, and has not been heard from since, either by phone or via the radio he also carried.

At least 200 people from several land management agencies, search and rescue organizations, the National Guard, and law enforcement agencies are actively searching for him. The Civil Air Patrol has used infrared equipment from a fixed wing aircraft and the New Mexico State Police have made a helicopter available.

The fire the three firefighters were trying to locate was eventually found. It was named the Schoolhouse Fire and was fully contained at 25 acres.

The last time we heard of wildland firefighters missing was late in the afternoon on June 30 — the Granite Mountain Hotshots were missing on the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. We hope this incident has a better outcome.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

16 thoughts on “Firefighter missing in New Mexico”

  1. Prayers for you old friend…keeping the faith that you are ok. You and your family are constantly in my thoughts.

  2. more info please, did they all start together or did they drive to different locations unload and start looking for the fire? Some things on this map bother me. Looks like a forest road goes very close to the fire he was looking for. Going to look this place up on Google Earth, to see the veg type and what searchers are dealing with.

  3. Why would the USFS send only 1 person on a remote recon like this. 2 people in the wild are always safer than 1. There are many very affordable ways of keeping track of these people on recon missions. If you can put a gramin gps tracking device on your hunting dog, why cant you do the same to protect these guys. there is also ham radio technology that send a users coordinates every time they key a microphone. Even if they are out of voice comms range the small data packet for tracking will transmit. Hoping for the best outcome but this is on the USFS.

    1. It sounds to me like there were 3 people on this mission, believing that they were in radio contact with each other. Searching separate directions allowed them to do the work of three people instead of one. Turns out the comms weren’t as solid as expected.

      There are those of us who believe that 2 people in the wild are almost always *less* safe than 1 competent person. Additionally, when payload capacity is finite I would usually prefer to carry an extra water bottle or other useful item that would help me avoid error than to leave useful items behind in order to tote a radio that would be of no value until I had made an error. I prepared a formal Job Hazard Analysis for wilderness work with both theses accepted by several District Rangers. In the present case, comms were required to conduct the mission so it wouldn’t have been in question.

      I had a coworker scouting a Rx fire on ATV roll over and get trapped underneath. Minor bruises only, but the machine was too heavy to get out from under in an awkward position. We discovered that a B-K portable radio, in a horizontal position, on the ground, under the trapped rider, had a voice range of just a couple hundred feet. That’s how close searchers realized they had passed several times without seeing the overturned machine, before hearing weak a radio signal. Turns out you don’t holler that well smashed flat, either. We can hope.

      You can try to wrap people up in a protective bubble to keep them away from the mishaps of field work, but in many cases the bubble will become a hazard of its own.

  4. I never got to meet are speak to Token but he left the Apalachicola NF in Florida right before I started I actually took the desk he was using he will and always be a part of the Apalach I pray he is safe and returns to his wife and fire fighter community we are all praying for his safe return.

  5. Bill – I believe that this area is close to where a wildland firefighter was killed in April 1993 on the “Buchanan Prescribed Burn”. The individual was a member of the Jemez Pueblo, and died of burn injuries.

  6. ATV’s are inherently dangerous and not to be taken lightly. That might be Token’s plight. A roll-over, flip, or dab of the foot to the ground especially without an approved DOT helmet, is all that it might take for his silence.

  7. Some FS personnel carry SPOTs, but only a very few. This situation is akin to the scenario of the lone temporary employee who is working alone in the field in remote locations on forests – where there is no cell or repeater reception. I have forked out my own money (yes, my own private money) for 3 Find Me Spots for my temporary seasonal employees. And yes, I realize I don’t have the authority and that it’s illegal to purchase, provide and implement these items for employees. And I can already tell you that the IT people have thrown two “fits” so far, but you know what?? I don’t care! The safety of my employees, or at the very least, the ability to track their last location is really really important for me. I actually carried one of these when I rappelled and jumped simply for friends and family to be able to track me on Google Maps.

    I really hope this kid is okay, that he’s sitting in his hooch with a sprained ankle and we’ll all laugh about this soon.

  8. They should at least be able to triangulate his last known location using cell phone data. Cops use it all the time. I assume his service provider would be more than happy to help.

    Also, do wildland fire fighters carry PLBs?


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