Wildland firefighters at Texas University

Student Association of Fire Ecology at Stephen F. Austin State University
Student Association of Fire Ecology at Stephen F. Austin State University

The Pine Log, which is “The Independent Voice of Stephen F. Austin State University” in Texas, has an interesting article about the local chapter of the Student Association of Fire Ecology and their wildland fire crew.

The article refers to “a devil-may-care mascot, Smokey the Hare, a buff rabbit in green cargos and red hard hat, hefting a drip torch over his shoulder”. Do any Wildfire Today readers have a photo of this critter they would like to share? Send us a copy and we would appreciate it.

Here is an excerpt from the article. We added the BOLD to the existing text in the last paragraph.

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Many student organizations do things that some may consider exciting—going to national conventions, road trips, even outdoor activities such as rock climbing, mud-wrestling, the like. The organizations draw people of a similar mind together to accomplish their lofty goals or fill their resumes.

But what kind of club (and what minded people) would sign up to be pitted against a 4000-degrees Fahrenheit blaze in the middle of the Deep East Texas forest? [note from Bill: HERE is more information about the burning temperature of forest fires.]

These students, mentally stable from the looks of things, are in the Student Association of Fire Ecology

“SAFE at Stephen F. Austin State University was formed in 2003. It is a professional organization for those interested in fire ecology and the use of fire in natural resource management,” according to Penny Whisenant, Marble Falls senior and president elect of SAFE this semester.

The wry edge and charisma of the wildland firefighter manifests itself in their coincidental name and their devil-may-care mascot, Smokey the Hare, a buff rabbit in green cargos and red hard hat, hefting a drip torch over his shoulder, which many of the members of SAFE in fact are.

“The Student Fire Fighting Crew is a part of SAFE, and assists the US Forest Service with prescribed burns or wildland fire fighting,” Whisenant said. SAFE has joined forces with the Sabine National Forest Wildland Fire Firefighters.

“I have been a firefighter for the Texas Forest Service for about three years now.” said Andy Cripe, Lufkin senior.

Cripe is indeed a man capable of being on a fire line, a decathalon of a job involving 60-pound backpacks, cutting brush and digging lines in front of an oncoming blaze. However, Cripe has not yet had this chance with the Student Fire Crew.

“I have not been able to go on fires with the SAFE team yet, but I am looking forward to it,” he said.

In order to participate in wildland fire fighting, SAFE members must go through a rigorous training program called red card certification, which allows them to legally fight fire on the line.

Strangely enough though, wildland fire fighters also set what is called “prescribed fires” on purpose; not for clearing land for future Walmarts, but to improve the health of the forest. For some, according to the values of Association of Fire Ecology (SAFE’s nation-wide parent organization), “Fire is a critical ecological process in many ecosystems throughout the world.”

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills. Google+