Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (WTREX) holds 12-day training sessions to help women advance their formal qualifications in wildland fire management. The goal is to enhance their understanding of fire ecology, fire effects, communications, outreach, prescribed fire policy, and planning. At least three sessions have occurred, in Florida and California.
When the U.S. fire management system was conceived in the early 1900s, women’s roles in the workforce were much different than they are now. Even today, women constitute a relatively small proportion of the workforce, filling roughly 10 percent of wildland fire positions and only 7 in 100 leadership roles. In recent years, there has been an increased effort to recruit women into fire, yet social and cultural challenges remain. New recruits often find the dominant fire management system to be dismissive of female perspectives and strengths, even as its increasing complexity requires fresh approaches and insights.
WTREX is supported by Promoting Ecosystem Resilience and Fire Adapted Communities Together, a cooperative agreement between The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service, and agencies of the Department of the Interior.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Paula. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
An organization in Europe is recruiting 15 PhD candidates who have wildfire-related masters degrees. They will be part of the PyroLife Innovative Training Network (Marie Skłodowska-Curie) involved in integrated fire management.
Ten leading institutions will host and monitor the research done by the 15 individuals who are early-stage researchers. The interdisciplinary and intersectoral consortium spans across Northwest and Southern Europe and beyond, encompassing the key disciplines and actors in fire; from academia and research institutes to small and large businesses, advocacy, governance, and emergency management.
The project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, Innovative Training Networks.
The applicants will be based in various locations in Europe. Some of them will at times be in one or more of the following countries: Spain, Canada, France, Netherlands, Greece, United States, Poland, UK, Denmark, New Zealand, or Germany.
The positions may have unusual requirements concerning the location of the applicant. Here is an example:
PyroLife as a Marie Curie Action is a researcher mobility programme. You are therefore required to undertake transnational mobility in order to be eligible for recruitment. As such, you must not have resided or carried out your main activity (e.g. work, studies) in the country where you have been recruited for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately before the recruitment date.
Do you have a genuine interest in landscape fires and resilience? Are you up for an interdisciplinary challenge, looking and learning beyond your own field and assumptions? With an international team that is inclusive, collaborative, creative and open minded? Then we are looking for you!
The 2018 wildfire season was a glimpse of what to expect in the future: deadly mega-fires in Mediterranean regions and high fire activity in temperate and boreal areas outside the typical Spring fire season. We cannot solve this challenge with the old mono-disciplinary approach of fire suppression: there is a critical need to change fire management from fire resistance to landscape resilience: Living with Fire. This requires a new type of diverse experts, who not only understand fire, but who are also able to communicate risks, deal with uncertainty, and link scientific disciplines as well as science and practice.
The new Innovative Training Network PyroLife will train the new generation of interdisciplinary experts in integrated fire management, acknowledging that 1) knowledge transfer from southern Europe (and worldwide) to temperate Europe can support the new generation of experts; and 2) fire risk planning, communication and management can learn from cross-risk lessons including temperate European expertise in water management. In doing so, this project combines how the North solves community problems with the fire knowledge of the European South.
We are hiring 15 PhD candidates across Southern and Northwest Europe and across a range of scientific disciplines, from social sciences and policy to environmental sciences and engineering. We are looking for a diverse group of creative and open minded Early Stage Researchers who are able to link innovative science to society, and communicate with media, stakeholders, and policy makers.
These 15 positions are open at 6 universities, 2 research institutes, a foundation and a company across Southern and Northwest Europe. For an overview of all positions, please visit https://pyrolife.lessonsonfire.eu/
This PhD project will help formulate an effective temperate European Fire Danger rating system that is urgently needed to support the management of increased wildfire occurrence expected under changing climatic conditions. The project will take a hydrological approach, predicting the moisture content of fuels (living and dead vegetation) at a range of spatial scales; from targeted high risk localised plots to temperate European regions. Fuel moisture predictions will be devised from the development of a low-cost wireless fuel moisture sensor network combined with remotely sensed water and vegetation data. Working with secondment partners, the impact of the refined temperate fuel moisture contents on fire behaviour and fire danger will be assessed at exemplar sites. The PhD project will be based at the University of Birmingham, UK, with secondments to both the University of Alberta, Canada, and to industry partners Tecnosylva, Spain.
Students came from all over the country for this year’s BLM’s all-female wildfire camp in eastern Oregon.
For the class final, the all-female crew of wildfire students dug fire line, rolled hose, and burned slash piles in the eastern Oregon snow.
The live burn exercise was the climax of the second annual Women in Wildland Fire Boot Camp, a BLM recruitment and retention tool that organizers hope will add diversity to the applicant pool for wildfire jobs.
The boot camp is really a paid training opportunity, part classroom and part field work, for women to become certified for federal fire jobs, an industry long dominated by men.
“I think we’re acknowledging we need to add diversity to our workforce,” said Jeff Fedrizzi, the top BLM fire official for Oregon and Washington, “And we’re putting our money where our mouth is.”
Twenty women attended last year and more than half of that first class ended up getting a job in firefighting, said Cassandra Andrews-Fleckenstein, the BLM program manager for the camp. This year, 25 women attended the two-weekend camp, once again coming from across the country. Students slept outside in 10-degree weather, used portable toilets, and wore the classic wildland firefighter uniform of yellow shirt and green pants, just like any other fire camp.
Kathleen Mascarenas, who is studying forestry and fire science at Colorado State University, said she came to the Women in Wildland Fire Boot Camp to get her foot in the door for a future job.
“I really just wanted to get a hands-on experience,” said Mascarenas, as a controlled burn crackled behind her last month. “I thought it would be a great experience to get started and meet some of the women that I would be hopefully working with in the future,” she said.
One of the attendees from Oregon, Kelli Creekmore, said she recently got her emergency medical technician license and is hoping to get a job providing first aid to wildland firefighters.
In addition to the typical fire coursework, students also received special presentations, for example, what it is like to be pregnant during a wildfire pack test, and how to successfully apply via USAJobs.gov.
Since many of the camp attendees are coming in with advanced education and other valuable prerequisites, it is imperative that they become fluent in the federal hiring process, said camp manager Andrews-Fleckenstein.
“They are frustrated because they don’t really know how to get into these fire jobs,” said Andrews-Fleckenstein, listing the main gripe she heard from students at the camp. “I’m finding that this camp is kind of a bridge for them.”
Bob Narus, the fire manager for the BLM’s Vale District, an area that spans more than 5 million acres in eastern Oregon, said simply making more applicants aware that the BLM is an option for firefighting jobs is important.
“I think there’s value in having these women in wildfire camps, so more people can become aware that, ‘Hey, I can go fight fire with the BLM also, not just the Forest Service,’” said Narus.
While camp attendees are compensated for their time, they are not reimbursed for their travel to and from rural eastern Oregon. Last year, one student flew round-trip from Chicago between university midterms to attend the boot camp, said Andrews-Fleckenstein, noting the clear and unique value of the all-female BLM fire camp.
“I think if we had more of them across the country, or offered a couple more, you might get a lot of people coming into it,” she said.
The study of infamous fires and military battles can be a valuable learning opportunity for wildland firefighters. On a Staff Ride, finding out about leadership factors that affected the outcome can help participants benefit from the good decisions, and reduce the chances of making similar mistakes.
Today we have a guest article written by Heather Thurston.
The Battle of San Pasqual: Decision Making Lessons Learned from the “Bloodiest Battle in California’s History”
By Fire Apparatus Engineer Heather Thurston, CAL FIRE – Monte Vista Unit
During the Mexican-American War President James Polk sent the U.S. 1st Dragoons, under the command of General Stephan Watts Kearny, 2000 miles from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to California. On December 6, 1846 these troops engaged a group of Mexican cowboys known as the “Californios” in what would become known as the “bloodiest battle in California’s History”.
Located in Southern California off of Hwy 78 nestled between Escondido and Poway in the northeast part of San Diego County, the battlefield now provides a unique learning opportunity for wildland firefighters.
On a cool April morning in 2019, cadets from Rio Hondo College Wildland Fire Academy lined up in anticipation for the day while leaders and mentors introduced each other from several departments across southern California. Leaders from U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Marines, CAL FIRE, Lakeside Fire, Newport Beach Fire, and other local departments assembled, ready to share their experiences and learn from each other about the decisions made in 1846. The battle of San Pasqual provides learning opportunities that parallel common issues consistently encountered on the firefighter’s battlefield.
Mounted troops of Captain Andres Pico’s rebellion have encamped and taken-up positions in the eastern portion of this valley with the intent of attacking and destroying coalition forces of the American Republic, now in armed conflict with the Californios/Republic of Mexico.
You are to reconnoiter as to exact location of enemy forces and perform action using advantages of terrain and nighttime operations to beat-up the enemy camp, so as to achieve capitulation—while minimizing casualties to the extent possible.
They have the capability of eliminating U.S. forces available for action, given their ability to exercise superior local firepower and maneuverability. They can reinforce with organic and out-of-theater assets.
With these words ringing in their heads, participants start the 1/4 mile walk to the day’s first stop. It was here that Captain Johnson took 12 Dragoons, the best of Kearny’s men, under the orders to “TROT” and recon as to the strength and readiness of their adversaries.
Both the Dragoons and the Californios were mounted calvary. The Californios had fresh horses and a few rifles but most of their fighting was done with lariats and long lances.
During their 2,000-mile journey, the longest march in U.S. Army history, most of the Dragoons’ horses died and the soldiers were left with mules and half-broken horses they rounded up around Warner Springs. Much of their gunpowder was wet which reduced the effectiveness of their carbines to clubs and pistols to hammers.
The attendees are asked to imagine a foggy cold morning and look through Captain Johnson’s eyes as he sees the shadow of two men on horses. Captain Johnson believes he sees an opportunity to capture and stop these men from warning the Californio troops of the American’s arrival. Capt. Johnson deviates from the plan and gives the order to “CHARGE”, beginning the grueling and violent, several day long battle that we now talk about 173 years later.
While hindsight is always 20/20, we now know these shadowed soldiers were bait, cleverly set by Captain Andres Pico, leader of the Californios, and they led the Americans into an ambush that led to destruction and chaos.
What allowed a much smaller and lesser armed force to dominate a trained, regular fighting unit consisting of heavily armed men? When compared to the fire fight, aren’t we also more intelligent, better armed, and better trained than the fire? How often do we make decisions and act on partial facts? What factors influence our margin of success or failure?
Exhaustion, stress, complacency, over confidence?
As the staff ride continues, the group moves up the hillside, to the second stand known as the “battlefield overlook”. U.S. Force Recon Marine Master Sergeant Zeran discusses the purpose and tactics of a military recon. Parallels are drawn between military recon tactics and those used to scout the fire line. How often do units scouting allow themselves to deviate from their original mission, drawn like a moth to the flame into the fire fight just like Capt. Johnson did?
After a short history lesson given by local Historian Stan “Gunboat” Smith in historical US Cavalry Uniform, students are paired with mentors for a short tactical exercise in clear communication and clear thinking under fire.
The group then moves on to what is known as “Decision Rock”. Here, lessons of leader’s intent are discussed along with the planning and decision making cycle. When General Kearney hears Captain Johnston change the order from “trot” to the order of “CHARGE”, it is recorded in a soldiers journal that General Kearny sighs, “Oh heavens, that is not what I meant!”.
So the question is presented, “Who has the authority to alter tactics at the last minute?” When the time/decision wedge is narrow, how do we make sound and safe decisions with little information? It is emphasized here how unprepared Kearny’s troops were for the battle — their gunpowder wet, their feet bare or boots damaged from their travels, and the attitude that this confrontation would be of no consequence. Also, keeping in mind, the weather was so cold that the buglers could not bugle, effectively crippling the Americans communications. Still, they marched forward to the bloody battle.
Almost immediately after the CHARGE order was given, Capt. Johnson was shot by a Californio marksman and the command structure begins to break down for the Americans.
How should we design our units and train for the possibility of command casualty? General Kearny had the perception that this battle would be easy and his men were far superior than their adversary. How do we recover when the enemy outpaces and outperforms our expectations? Kearny was also working under the pressure from his command (the President of the United States) to engage. Do we allow expectations from Chief officers and the public to drive decision making?
After a lunch break, participants are led into a riverbed. Once Captain Pico realized his troops were are getting boxed in by the US, he faked a retreat down into this riverbed.
Here, you can start to see more active participation by the academy cadets, as lessons learned from their studies into incidents such as the Yarnell Hill Fire start to connect and draw a parallel to the decision making processes of this battle. Instructors reiterate leadership lessons that had been touched on throughout the day and how they all led to the battle that happened on this very ground.
Finally, participants are at the final stop at the Pioneer Cemetery. After a moment of reflection on mortality, students, mentors, and instructors alike are asked to draw conclusions about the battle’s relevance today. A voice inside me says, “Be hungry for your history”, meaning learn these lessons from others’ mistakes when the time/decision making wedge is wide. Be able to detach from the chaos and fog of our “war”, and make sound and battle-tested tactical decisions. Don’t ever let your guard down. Just when you believe you are stronger, smarter, and more prepared, you are in fact most vulnerable to complacency. And above all, never stop learning.
On Tuesday four U.S. Senators signed a letter urging federal officials to resume publication of wildfire training materials in Spanish as well as English.
The letter from Senators Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley, Dianne Feinstein, and Kamala Harris follows a report that the National Wildfire Coordinating Group no longer publishes training materials in Spanish for wildland fire crews.
“Given that a significant number of these brave wildland fire crews speak Spanish as their native language, it would be wiser and safer to provide bilingual training materials,” the senators wrote in their letter to National Wildfire Coordinating Group Chairman Garth Fisher. “The alternative is to risk danger and harm by requiring that all firefighters rapidly attempt to understand training materials that are only available in English.”
The senators urged the NWCG to begin producing bilingual versions of key manuals like the Incident Response Pocket Guide.
“Firefighters must be provided with clearly understandable, updated training materials so that they can operate safely and respond to wildfires expeditiously and efficiently,” the senators wrote.