Red Hot Knowledge

CAFNR students become wildland firefighters

fires2“Seeing a crown fire run up a mountainside and hearing that ‘freight train’ sound that comes with the incredible energy release of a burning forest is an amazing and humbling experience,“ said Peter Noble, CAFNR alum.

Noble graduated from MU with a B.S. in both forestry and fisheries and wildlife biology, and is currently a seasonal crewmember on Kings Peak Wildland Fire Module on the Ashley National Forest in Utah.

The primary duty of the wildland firefighter is the suppression of wildland fires. As a national resource, the crews travel throughout the U.S. and internationally to assist on fires and other incidents. The crews often support large wildfires through fire line construction, burnout operations and mop-up. However, initial attack of smaller fires is also a common assignment.

Marissa Jo Daniel holds B.S. degrees in forestry and fisheries and wildlife biology and a master‘s degree in forestry from MU, with an emphasis in forest economic s and policy. She works as a Gila Hotshot based in New Mexico on the Gila National Forest. Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHC) are diverse teams of career and temporary agency employees who uphold a tradition of excellence and have solid reputations as multi-skilled professional firefighters, according to the U.S. Forest Service Website.

“By being knowledgeable about tree species and their characteristics, local weather in the area, slopes percentages, aspects of mountainside, and a variety of other factors I am better able to determine what fire behavior is going to be like,” Daniel said. “All of this was taught to me in my courses at MU. The professor s in the School of Natural Resources do an excellent job of teaching courses ensuring we had hands on experience and what we were learning was relevant in the field.”

Daniel was doing a training assignment acting as a holding boss during the Holloway fire in 2012 and was responsible for the holding crew. Winds shifted and the main front began coming faster than they could put fire down on the

“We retreated to our safety zone just before the fire closed it off from us,” Daniel said. “I was responsible for making sure my holders had made it to the safety zone unscathed. I was the most terrified as we were waiting for the fire to calm down enough to go back in and fight the fire again. I realized how many lives were in my hands trusting me to lead them to safety and tell them what to do. If I had made one mistake the results had the potential to be fatal not just for myself but those in my charge. That’s a big responsibility that I didn’t have time to worry about while the situation was occurring but afterward the weight and seriousness of it had a very sobering effect on me.”

Classes in the School of Natural Resources not only prepare students for wildland firefighting, but give them hands-on experience that can help chose a career path.

“I was fascinated by the science of wildland fire that I learned during Forest Fire Control and Use class in the School of Natural Resources, and after my first prescribed fire experience that semester I was hooked,” Noble said. “I grew up in a rural area and have always loved the outdoors, so when I learned that as a wildland firefighter you could get paid to travel to remote places to camp and hike and work outside all day I could hardly believe it and was determined to give it a try.”

Mizzou Student Association for Fire Ecology (SAFE) helps prepare students for a career in wildland firefighting.Mizzou Student Association for Fire Ecology (SAFE) helps prepare students for a career in wildland firefighting.

Besides courses in the School of Natural Resources, Tiger Fire Crew, now known as Mizzou Student Association for Fire Ecology (SAFE), also helped prepare alums and current student for this career. The organization currently has about 20 members, 12 of whom are qualified at Federal standards as wildland firefighters. They have assisted on more than 300 acres of prescribed burns during the spring 2013 semester, and have worked with Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri State Parks, LAD Foundation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, Missouri Audubon Society, and Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources.

“They say this job is 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical, and this is true,” Daniel said. “You really can do anything you set your mind to. My biggest challenge has been believing that i am physically capable of doing my job. No matter how many pushups and miles you have to run, how hot it is outside, how tall the steepest mountain is, how heavy your pack is, or how many hours and miles of line you have to dig…you can and will do it. Once you have mastered the mental part of firefighting and believe in yourself, this job truly becomes the best job you will ever have.”

“My superintendent received an email from a former Gila Hotshot saying we may not Hotshot forever, or even stay in fire for that matter, but we will always cherish these years as being the best in our life,” Daniel said. “There are days you won’t like and wish you were anywhere else but there, but in the big scheme of life these times are the ones we will remember and relive in our dreams and memories.”