A class of 24 cadets recently graduated from the Alaska Advanced Wildland Firefighter Academy held at the Lost Lake Boy Scout Camp near Fairbanks from April 24 to May 9. The Academy is sponsored by the Alaska Division of Forestry.
Firefighters from around the state attended the Academy. There were cadets from the villages/communities of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Glennallen, Grayling, Hooper Bay, Huslia, Kalskag, Moose Pass, Nikolai, North Pole and Tok.
Over the course of two weeks, firefighters were trained in the use of portable pumps, chainsaws, helicopter safety and protocol, navigation using maps and GPS, air operations, leadership skills and overall firefighter safety. The training prepares firefighters for jobs with fire suppression agencies in Alaska such as the Alaska Division of Forestry, the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service and the U.S. Forest Service, as well as cooperator crews sponsored by Native organizations and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“The Academy was great,” Rich Freireich, a cadet from the village of Grayling, said. “We learned from some of the best and I learned a lot of invaluable information.
“I just moved back to the village; we have a lot of young firefighters,” he added. “I am taking the knowledge I gained from the Academy to help them become a more efficient and cohesive crew.”
In addition to providing hands-on, advanced wildland firefighting skills to strengthen Alaska’s fire suppression workforce, the Academy teaches cadets leadership skills that will benefit them in all walks of life.
“The Academy builds better firefighters by teaching intangible life skills like self-confidence and working together while being challenged in a harsh outdoor environment,” Tom Kurth, Wildland Fire and Aviation Program Manager for the Alaska Division of Forestry, said. “These individuals are now candidates for wildland firefighter positions such as hotshot crew members, forest technicians, or emergency firefighters.”
The Alaska Advanced Wildland Firefighter Academy was created in 2012 using state funds and has been a very successful program, with many graduates going on to work on state, federal or cooperator crews. The Academy is offered on alternate, even years to compliment the Alaska Crew Boss Academy, which is delivered on odd-numbered years by the Division of Forestry and Alaska Fire Service.
In 2016, funding for the Academy was reduced by approximately two-thirds due to budget cuts and alternative funding was sought. Financial backing for this year’s Academy was secured from the Alaska Fire Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Chugachmiut, Doyon, Tanana Chiefs Conference and U.S. Forest Service. The funding of sponsors helped provide transportation, lodging and meals for firefighters during the Academy.
The 2016 Academy was made possible through a partnership between the Alaska Division of Forestry and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Rural and Community Development’s wildland fire science program.
The Academy culminated with a graduation ceremony on May 9 where Cadets were awarded a University of Alaska Fairbanks occupational endorsement in wildland fire science.