Colorado high school students study fire for five weeks

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Eagle Rock High School students dig line during the “Snow Fire” exercise while Alpine IHC Superintendent Paul Cerda coaches them. The Snow Fire was the culmination of the “Fire!” program with Alpine crew. NPS photo.

From the National Park Service:

Sayings like these are more than just words in the world of firefighting: “Punctuality shows respect,” “Train like you fight,” “Crew cohesion is important.” They are life lessons that students from an alternative residential high school in Estes Park, Colorado, learned during a five-week class on wildland fire.

Simply called “Fire!,” the program, now in its second year, linked six students from Eagle Rock school with Alpine Hotshots and ecologists from Rocky Mountain National Park and the Continental Divide Research Learning Center.

An existing relationship between the school, the park and hotshot crew sparked the idea for the “Fire!” program. An Eagle Rock student has been a member of the Alpine Hotshots for the past four fire seasons. In May 2011, Rafael Mcleod graduated before joining the team. Vidal Carrillo became a hotshot in 2012 and continues to work on the crew while also pursuing his undergraduate degree at Colorado State University.

This enthusiasm is part of what ignited the “Fire!” program. Ben Baldwin, ecologist at the learning center, and Paul Cerda, Alpine Hotshot superintendent, discussed opportunities with Eagle Rock School when they came up with the idea for the pilot program. “After Vidal and Rafael’s success as members of the hotshot crew, we knew several kids were interested in wildland fire,” Cerda said. “Ben and I decided we needed to build on that, partly as an opportunity for diversity recruiting.”

Baldwin approached Eagle Rock School with the idea to develop the pilot course for citizen fire science, similar to other citizen science programs offered through the learning center. While the initial idea was to put the students through a 40-hour basic wildland fire course in order to certify them as wildland firefighters, Cerda and Baldwin quickly realized lectures were not going to be the best learning environment for these students.

“These are students who were not going to get much out of sitting in the classroom,” Cerda said. “They are used to more experiential learning through a hands-on approach. That’s also why we incorporated the physical training standards as part of the curriculum.”

This year, learning center staff member Holly Nickel used her expertise in education and curriculum development to refine and develop materials for this course. “Four of the key principles in fire — safety, physical training, fire ecology, and fire suppression — were the goals of the new fire curriculum,” Nickel said.

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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.

2 thoughts on “Colorado high school students study fire for five weeks”

  1. In Region 5, there used to be dozens of programs like this.

    When the Region took over recruitment programs from the Forests and Ranger Districts, these successful local programs all died.

    Kudos to the other areas who still know what RIGHT looks like, and creates great programs for our youth and future wildland firefighters.


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