The benefits of prescribed fire have been well documented, but it gets a bit hairy when a wildfire burns across the landscape. As such, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Deparment (TPWD) State Parks Division is collaborating with the Texas Forest Service (TFS) to offer three Wildland Firefighter Training Exchanges at state parks this January through March. Two exchanges have been completed to date, and the third is being held February 28 through March 6. As the collaboration develops, the trainings may be opened up to additional agencies and the public in years to come.
The idea for the training exchange arose last year when State Parks Wildland Fire Program Manager Jeff Sparks was visiting with TFS Mitigation and Prevention Coordinator Rich Gray. Jeff explains, “We were discussing how we could better provide training and experience opportunities to inexperienced firefighters, and also training opportunities to firefighters working to increase their firefighter qualification levels.”
Based on a model used by The Nature Conservancy, the week-long trainings paired wildland firefighters from the two agencies with mentors who provided hands-on training and fire experience. Participants were fully engaged in putting fires on the ground, and
spent time in the classroom covering agency policy and procedures as well as topics such as fire history, fire effects and ecology, fire line
safety, firing techniques, and fire in the wildland-urban interface. Fire is an important management tool for maintaining habitat and associated wildlife, particulary in species such as bobwhite quail.
The training exchanges are operated under the Incident Command System (ICS) structure, with Jeff and Rich as co-incident commanders.
ICS is an emergency response system that was developed more than 30 years ago in the aftermath of large-scale wildfires in California. Participants come away with a better understanding of ICS, which will allow staff from both agencies to better utilize ICS in future emergency situations, such as Hurricanes Rita and Ike response.
The training exchanges are one of the means by which the State Parks Wildland Fire Program supports Land andWater Plan action items aimed at maintaining healthy terrestrial ecosystems. Prescribed burning is an effective way to foster habitat diversity by reducing invasive or undesirable plant species and promoting native grasses and forbs that have been overtaken by the more dominant species.