Texas Conservation Corps at the Bastrop Wildfire Academy

The Firefighter Training & Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior (S130/190) course conducted by the Capital Area Interagency Wildfire & Incident Management Academy was an extremely rewarding experience. Myself along with 9 other members of the Texas Conservation Corps were provided the opportunity to learn about the expanding world of wildland firefighting. Our instructors- Larry Weaver, Willie Mcinnes and Mark Elliot—are experienced professionals who used hands-on experiences to teach us.  During the first few days, we learned about the most important factors of predicting fire behavior and how conditions on a fire can change from minute to minute and hour to hour. Even though there were a lot of technical aspects of fire behavior analysis our instructors taught us practical skills, such as using a sling psychrometer to measure relative humidity, and how Relative Humidity affects the fire’s fuel and burn behavior.  Each day built on the previous day’s knowledge and we were challenged to think critically about how fire behavior adapts, not only with weather conditions, but also due to the terrain. Depending on where a fire starts, we learned about how natural geographic features, such as box canyons, saddle backs and other terrain elements can accelerate the fire’s spread and intensity. Our instructor’s taught us fire vocabulary but also to use natural barriers within an environment (such as roads, waterways, and rocky areas) as anchor points to fight fire. I can hear our instructors now: “work smarter not harder!”

When we transitioned to the fire fighting portion of our course (S190) we simulated a fire camp and were able to participate in the construction of a fire line and a prescribed burn. You know the saying, “you don’t fight fire with fire?” Well, in wildland fire fighting this just isn’t true. In the classroom we learned that fire creates its own weather conditions, but in the field we were able to see how setting a fire within the constructed fireline can use the convective properties of fire—drawing it to itself—and how this actually extinguishes the fire. The fireline construction, fuel reduction and “mop up” were the most exciting aspects of the course. In our Nomex suites and full protective gear we constructed a fire line using the one-lick method. Each person, wielding a different tool, scratched out a small portion of the fire line until the line is down to mineral soil. Working with my fellow classmates, I could sense the camaraderie that develops on a fire crew. As we walked, each one of us pointed to widow makers and stump holes, preventing the crew from slowing down and ensuring each member’s safety. Once the fireline was complete, the instructors allowed me to light a fusee to begin the fire. Once the fire was going we could observe fire behavior and use the tactics learned in the classroom to extinguish the fire by drawing it to itself and eliminating unburnt fuel. The S130/S190 course was an exciting and extremely engaging experience with which to end my year.

LaJuan D. Tucker, SLA Crew Leader 

Texas Conservation Corps – It Will Change You!

A year ago, I was sitting in a cubicle in Washington DC. My days were spent filling out excel sheets, pinging emails back and forth, and periodically checking ESPN for the latest NFL injury reports. The fantasy football season was in full tilt.

Although I couldn’t always explain why, for most of my childhood and into my adulthood, I had intended to join the military. What I wanted all along, I learned to realize, was a career with a pace that would keep me engaged and challenged, filled with excitement and opportunity. The armed forces seemed tailor made for me. In my junior year of college, however, I learned that I was ineligible for service.  And so, just like that, I found myself in a cubicle instead.

In between the routine I described above, I checked USA Jobs constantly, trying to find something exciting- a career that I could really love. I stared enviously at the postings I found there. Sometimes I applied. I looked at jobs which had exciting words like “Helitack”, or more mundane ones like “Handcrew” in their descriptions. And of course, the most desirable postings of them all were those which ended with the word “Smokejumper” in parenthesis. But no matter what they called themselves, all of those postings represented something I wanted. The first step, the last step, or somewhere in between along a career path I had imagined for myself, somewhere down the road.

Wishes notwithstanding, I was laughably unqualified. I wracked my brain searching for ways to get the experience I needed.

And then I found out about the conservation corps world. I had friends from Texas, and I knew it was an area which was under constant threat of wildfire. I applied for all of the Texas Conservation Corps positions, hoping that I’d get accepted and once there, learn practical skills and the value of hard work in unforgiving heat. And maybe, just maybe, find a way to get my foot in the door with a job I day dreamed about.

I’m not in DC anymore. I’ve forgotten how to navigate the Excel taskbar and learned how to operate a chainsaw. My experience to date has been more rewarding in more ways than I ever could have imagined. I’m excited to have gotten that chance to put my foot in that door, and open up a world of opportunities which thus far has remained off-limits to me.

Matt Lore, Field Crew Member