USA — Students at Drake University can become certified in wildland firefighting by taking a two-credit course, spending a few hours online and testing their knowledge of fires in a real setting.
Introduction to Wildland Firefighting and Fire Behavior is an environmental science course taught by Thomas Rosburg, an associate professor of biology.
“We learn about what causes wildfires, how firefighters work to stop and deal with fires and how to become a wildland firefighter,” Nikki Marschke (AS1) said.
Students gain a broad understanding of fire behavior and its reactions to weather, topography and fuels, Rosburg said. They also learn how to attack a fire, construct fire lines, use equipment and find their way in the wilderness.
The main goal of this class is to give students the opportunity for wildland firefighting certification. Taking the class, however, does not automatically certify students. They must also complete online modules covering the class material and prove their firefighting ability.
“Once they pass online, they do a field day with a certified instructor, make a fire line and deploy their fire shelter in 25 seconds or less,” Rosburg said.
A fire line is a band of cleared land used to impede an oncoming fire. A fire shelter’s appearance is similar to a sleeping bag but protects the user from fire and is only used in extreme cases, Rosburg said.
The students being certified will go on a field trip with Rosburg to conduct a prescribed burn on private land. This doubles as a learning activity and a service project, providing free assistance to people who want their land burned. Still, many students choose not to get certified.
“I don’t think firefighting is for me,” Marschke said. “It sounds too dangerous.”
Instead, she took the class because it was on the environmental science class list and looked interesting, she said.
Many different majors, not just those studying environmental science, take this class. Benjamin Sabal (J1) said he chose the class to earn more credits.
“I recommend it to anyone who has to take another class and just wants something interesting,” Sabal said. He said he likes the relevance of the information; unlike math problems, this is more applicable. “These are real-life situations,” Sabal said.
Rosburg said he wants students to gain a better understanding of what fire is like.
“Fire is important to ecosystems, a natural environmental factor,” Rosburg said. Fire burns leaves and dead plants that block sunlight. It also releases nutrients in the soil, so when new plants grow after the fire, they will be healthy.
Rosburg said he tries to discourage the “Smokey Bear” mentality, the belief that all fire is bad and must be stifled immediately. Much money is wasted on extinguishing wildfires that are healthy for the ecosystem, Rosburg said. If non-threatening and away from civilization, these fires should not be suppressed and lives should not be risked.
Wildland Firefighting is taught this semester from 6 to 7:50 p.m. on Wednesdays in Olin Hall. It is offered every two or three years.
“College is meant to broaden your horizons,” Mark Stevens (AS, J3) said. “Take Wildland Firefighting.”