Putting out brush fires 101

Hilary Smith

Since 2002, Finger Lakes Community College has offered wildland fire-suppression courses that prepared students for blaze-battling careers with agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

This fall, that collection of firefighting courses will become a full SUNY certificate program.

That means students can now apply their financial aid toward the courses. It also makes students more employable, according to fire ecology instructor Rob Wink — rather than just taking a smattering of courses, the certificate shows that students have received a well-rounded fire-fighting education.

"It's an all-inclusive package," he said.

Courses available this semester include wildland fire suppression, portable pump and water use, fire ecology and a more advanced Firefighter Type 1 class, which will allow budding flame-fighters to enter the work force at a higher pay scale than those who hadn't taken the class. Professional firefighters, employees from federal agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and faculty from the conservation department will teach the courses.

Though many people think wildfires only happen out West, fire suppression and fire ecology are just as important in this area, said John Van Niel, chairman of FLCC's Environmental Conservation and Horticulture department. In dry summers like the one we've just had, fields and brush can catch fire and spread or "ladder" to nearby trees and houses. An in-depth knowledge of fire suppression and ecology also makes for a more well-rounded student of environmental conservation, he said.

And fire is not always a destructive tool — not too far from here, at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge near Seneca Falls and at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, Genesee County, fires are set on purpose in order to maintain the state's dwindling grasslands.

Students who have taken the courses in the past have already found jobs on seasonal crews, called at a moment's notice to fight sweeping fires out West in the dry summer months.

Hilary Smith can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 343, or at hsmith@mpnewspapers.com.