Chattahoochee Fall Line Ecosystem Partnership (CFLEP)
Mentoring Fire Crews on the Chattahoochee Fall Line
By Geoff Sorrell, The Nature Conservancy
How do I get a prescribed fire job without experience, and how do I gain experience if I can’t get a job? Maybe some of you have been stumped by this riddle in your own career path. And breaking into the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) fire qualification system used by Federal land management agencies can be especially tough.
For 15 years, The Nature Conservancy in Georgia has offered entry-level positions to prescribed fire practitioners enabling them to gain hands-on experience. In 2011, the Conservancy’s Chattahoochee Fall Line (CFL) program hired our first seasonal fire crew to burn on buffer lands around Fort Benning. At the close of every fire season, we have had crew members build the skills required to move on to fire jobs with various Federal agencies. During the 2018 fire season, the CFL crew will be staffed with Student Conservation Association personnel who are military veterans. This is a logical connection with the Department of Defense and the buffering role that the CFL conservation lands fulfill around Fort Benning.
Other mentoring has taken place through a long-term partnership with the University of Montana fire practicum. These students travel to Georgia to learn about fire ecology and prescribed fire. A more recent development is the collaboration with The University of West Georgia’s Fire Ecology class. Students have had the chance to see classroom principles become reality by participating as crew members on fire operations.
The newest concept in mentoring and training on the CFL is the launch of a Prescribed Fire Cooperative. The Cooperative is a collaborative effort between multiple partners and works to increase the safe and effective use of prescribed fire through training and on-the-ground assistance.
A Chattahoochee Fall Line Student Conservation Association crew learns about fire plumbing techniques. Photo by Geoff Sorrell.