By Kirsten Delamarter
There are two designated fire hazard seasons in Kentucky — one in the spring and one in the fall — but for the firefighting crews with the state’s Division of Forestry, professional development happens all year long.
This week, more than 50 fire fighters from the Division of Forestry will depart for Bell Buckle, Tennessee, where they’ll participate in the Tennessee-Kentucky Wildland Fire Academy. While there, staff will take courses in subjects such as fire line leadership, the Incident Command System and operation and management of firefighting resources like heavy equipment, off-road vehicles and chainsaws.
The academy, which has been around for nearly two decades, is essentially a “one-stop shop” when it comes to training firefighting foresters, said Brandon Howard, fire management chief and forest protection branch manager with the Division of Forestry.
Because the Division of Forestry provides in-kind support to the non-profit group responsible for organizing the event, it’s also a cost-effective way for crews to access intermediate and advanced training that might otherwise be prohibitively expensive.
“This is an opportunity for our people to get higher level courses that we normally can’t get, or it’s hard to get, or we have to pay a lot of money to go somewhere to take them,” Howard said.
Kentucky Division of Forestry is one of five partners helping to organize the academy, alongside the Tennessee Division of Forestry, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. Fire crews from outside these agencies are welcome to attend the training, Howard said, but tuition for non-partners can cost $300-$400 per course.
Division of Forestry administrative specialist Jessie English has for months been working with partnering agencies to plan courses and manage student enrollment. She said more than 650 individuals are registered to attend this year’s academy, traveling from as far away as Alaska.
Of those students, 147 are from Kentucky, which includes staff from Daniel Boone National Forest, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, The Nature Conservancy, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife and Kentucky State Fire Rescue Training. Although the Kentucky Division of Forestry is the state’s lead agency in fighting wildfires on private lands, it frequently works with other agencies in suppression efforts.
Of the 51 Kentucky Division of Forestry staff scheduled to attend, seven will be teaching courses.
Michael Froelich, assistant fire management chief for the Kentucky Division of Forestry, represents the Kentucky Division of Forestry on the Fire Academy Steering Committee and was instrumental in the planning process, Howard said.
Howard said that the academy takes place in January each year because it is typically a slow time for wildfire activity across the country, but especially for Kentucky and Tennessee.
Apart from the annual Tennessee-Kentucky Wildland Fire Academy and the basic fire training that takes place before each fire season, “our folks keep their skills sharp through deployments out of state,” Howard said.
The Division of Forestry’s fire management and field staff worked to suppress 699 fires in 2019 within the state. The agency also assists with fire suppression outside of Kentucky. Most recently, Kentucky crews have assisted with fires in Texas. Between 2017 and 2019, Howard said, Kentucky Division of Forestry crews deployed to fight fires in nearly every state in the Western U.S., including Alaska.
The out-of-state deployments not only give Kentucky firefighters valuable experience, but bring revenue that enables the Division of Forestry to maintain and update firefighting equipment.
For more information about the Tennessee-Kentucky Wildland Fire Academy, click here.
The Kentucky Division of Forestry works to protect, conserve and enhance Kentucky’s forest resources through wildfire suppression as well as forest health and urban forestry programs. Read more about the Division for Forestry here.