Photo Credit: Junction City VFD firefighter Naomi Underwood conducting firing operations. Photo by Dave Jaramillo

Written By: Piper McDaniel, Communications and Partnership Coordinator, WRTC

The Watershed Research and Training Center in California recently hosted Trinity County’s first prescribed fire training for volunteer fire departments (VFDs). The two-day event was held in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Firestorm and local VFDs. Twenty-two people participated in the training, which included lectures on prescribed fire; hands-on training for site preparation, assessment and prescribed fire skills: and prescribed fire implementation on two units that spanned 7 acres.

The goal of this training was to lay the foundations for integrating Trinity County VFDs into our local prescribed fire workforce. We learned a lot from this event that will help us engage with partners—especially VFDs–and grow our cross-trained workforce in the future.

Here are some things we learned about hosting a prescribed fire training for VFDs:
  • Utilize VFDs appropriately in your planning. In rural locations like ours, VFDs may have limited personnel, and there is a high probability of their crews getting pulled away on a call during a burn, or not having enough personnel to commit to a prescribed burn. You are more likely to get participants if they know they can leave if they need to, so plan accordingly and have your minimum resources met without them.
  • Design the training collaboratively. This will maximize benefit, establish a framework for shared learning, and support positive relationships. When developing our curriculum, we built a committee with partners and fire chiefs to develop the content, and we shared this information at fire chief meetings. This allowed better access to promote the training, and better understanding of the capacity and needs of departments. It also set a tone for collaboration and partnership that will be vital as we work together going forward.
  • Communicate the long-term benefit of prescribed burning and local fire management capacity. Let VFDs know the larger objectives you are working for, and how there is an opportunity for them to engage and be part of that goal so they understand how the training will benefit them, their department and their community in the long term.
  • Explain how their participation in prescribed fire can help them during wildfire season. Let them know how the work they are doing will directly benefit them during the wildfire season by reducing hazard and increasing fire preparedness, and by giving them a working knowledge of the landscape.
  • Advertise the potential for professional development and paid work (if an option). Develop specific training agendas in advance that identify the learning and skills that the training will provide, so VFDs understand the value and are able to prioritize the training time. This will be essential for keeping your attendance up, since VFDs are usually swamped with trainings.
  • Advertise the potential for prescribed fire to generate revenue for their department. Make chiefs and personnel aware of the potential revenue that can be generated by building capacity and participating in prescribed fire, and by partnering with other organizations and groups to support prescribed fire work.
  • Be aware of other trainings and scheduling barriers for VFDs and schedule accordingly. Planning around burn windows is difficult, but if possible, offer multiple potential burn windows and pre-plan them so that volunteers can schedule around other trainings.
  • Help VFDs work together to facilitate trainings and build a stronger local partnership network. For example, if two departments are especially short-handed, help them organize so they provide coverage for each other, allowing them both to participate and have firefighters on call. This will increase your numbers, but will also serve to strengthen relationships between departments.
  • Have clear expectations and objectives. Trainees need to have a strong understanding of what the desired outcome is, and a clear understanding of what to do if things go wrong. This is essential for their comfort.
  • Build trust. Prescribed burning takes a lot of trust, so building strong relationships is vital to the success of training. Trainers need to trust the capacity of VFDs, and VFDs need to trust that their trainers are prepared and won’t allow them to get into risky situations. Let your VFDs know that you are all working as a team, and that you’re in it together. 
  • Remember that you are teaching them how to maintain landowner relationships. In addition to learning some of the technical aspects of prescribed burning, your trainees 3are learning how to engage landowners. You will teach them how to educate, be inclusive and communicate honestly with landowners about the benefits, risks and expectations of a burn.

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