Wildfire Academies Across the U.S.A.: Structural and Wildland Firefighters Training Together – Part 1

Robert M. Winston begins this series on wildfire academies throughout the countries with a look at structural and wildland firefighters training together.


Many structural firefighters have asked me where they can obtain training for wildland and wildland/urban interface (W/UI) fire suppression. Today, the need for cross training to enable all firefighters to operate safely and effectively at wildland and W/UI fire incidents is an essential component...


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Many structural firefighters have asked me where they can obtain training for wildland and wildland/urban interface (W/UI) fire suppression. Today, the need for cross training to enable all firefighters to operate safely and effectively at wildland and W/UI fire incidents is an essential component of modern firefighting operations.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
Structural firefighters attending this year's Colorado Wildfire Academy were taught basic wildland firefighting techniques, such as how to "limb up a tree," above, in a power saw class.

Without proper approved training, the firefighter and firefighting teams can be at great risk during the simplest wildland or W/UI fire. Those risks increase exponentially at the larger, more complex wildland and W/UI fires that have become more common across the country. During the very active fire season of 2002, more structural firefighters operated at large W/UI fires than ever before. That trend has been increasing over the years. The need for training the nation's firefighters to safely operate at these types of fires has also increased to meet those demands.

Wildfire academies are ideal settings where structural and wildland firefighters can join together to gain the required training to meet those demands. With the formation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, there has been discussion related to "all-risk" national Type 1 Incident Management Teams (IMTs) to respond to large incidents that require complex logistical and tactical support. Training would be the backbone for firefighter qualifications in order to be a team member. Wildfire academies could become essential training partners on a national scale.

This article will provide information about major wildfire academies that are held annually at different times across the United States. Each wildfire academy has a unique regional personality. The numerous courses offered at these academies are approved by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) and taught by experienced, qualified firefighter instructors. The academies can produce many fully trained firefighters in a short period because many different courses are offered at one location over a one- to two-week time slot.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
How to "cut line" in the basic wildfire class.

Not only do firefighter students learn the essentials of wildland and W/UI fire protection, they meet like minded individuals and forge new relationships at these academies. "Networking" and inter-agency cooperation are an important aspect of these academies and are strongly encouraged and fostered. All academies are run as an actual "event" and the incident command system (ICS) is initiated from start to demobilization ("demob") of the academy.

The point must be stressed that these academies are not only for wildland firefighters. Structural firefighters, whether they are career, volunteer, call, city, suburban or rural, are welcomed and encouraged to attend. Private contract firefighters are also attending in growing numbers.

Contact information with the locations and dates of the wildland academies is listed at the end of each academy's description.

Colorado Wildfire Academy. This is where it all began. It was June 2-8, 2003, that the 10th annual Colorado Wildfire Academy (CWA) was held at Adams State College in Alamosa, CO. The 10-year anniversary of this, the "granddaddy of all the wildfire academies," was celebrated. Nearly 1,000 firefighters from 33 states received training in 41 classes, including Basic Wildland Firefighting, Advanced Wildland Firefighting, Task Force/Engine Strike Team Leader, Wildland Fire Behavior, Fire Operations in the Wildland/Urban Interface, Air Operations and Computer Technical Specialist.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
This year's Colorado Wildfire Academy was dedicated to the memory of Paul Gleason, a wildland firefighter, mentor and instructor who passed away this year. The photo shows Paul Gleason, right, doing what he loved to do best, working with fire, during a wildfire training class in Colorado.
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