(March 8, 2017) PALMER – Alaska Job Corps students got a taste of working on wildfires at a week-long basic wildland firefighting training class offered in the middle of the winter by the BLM Alaska Fire Service.
The training, which is commonly referred to as a red card class, gave 41 Job Corps students the basic tools for wildland firefighting. It’s the first time the training was offered at the Alaska Job Corps campus in Palmer as a way to broaden and diversify recruiting for BLM AFS. Job Corps is a federal no-cost education and career technical training program for people ages 16-24. Approximately 70 percent of Alaska Job Corps students are from rural Alaska – a targeted demographic for recruitment because BLM AFS provides wildland fire protection in some of the most remote parts of Alaska.
“We’re not turning you into firefighters, we’re giving you the tools in order to get into the field and succeed if you choose to,” said training instructor Chase Maness, a foreman on the Midnight Sun Interagency Hot Shot Crew. Other instructors were fellow Midnight Sun Hot Shot Ben Ferguson and John Glover, a forestry technician with the Alaska Division of Forestry (ADOF). ADOF also provided training material and administered the arduous physical test at the end of the training.
Like other Job Corps training, the course provided hands-on lessons for some of the methods and tools used in wildland firefighting – or at least as hands on as it can get with a foot of snow on the ground. The instructors also counseled the students that they could take these skills and, using hard work and initiative, turn them into a successful and rewarding career – something that applies to every job.
During one field training session, students sat in groups of about eight inside the Job Corps gymnasium, watching each other as they took turns sharpening a pulaski, one of the most commonly used wildland firefighting tools. Each one wore stiff leather gloves as they gingerly took a file and ran it along the edge of the blade as they cradled the pulaski in their laps.
BLM AFS Fire Operations Chief Dave Whitmer said the true test of class success will be whether students will apply to become wildland firefighters. However, he was optimistic because 24 students had registered for the training and 41 attended. Whitmer and Amanda Roberts, former Youth Program Coordinator for the Department of Interior in Alaska, were instrumental in adding the class to the Job Corps curriculum. Whitmer is still looking for more ways to give young people in rural Alaska a way to start a career in wildland firefighting by utilizing technical schools.
Some in the class, like 25-year-old Alaska Native Brian Nunooruk, expressed interest in applying for the North Star Fire Crew, BLM AFS’s entry level firefighting crew. Nunooruk said working on fires all summer would help get him in shape for the military. His father, who is originally from Nome, fought fires as an emergency firefighter in the 90s.
“It sounds fun,” said Nunroouk. “It would keep me busy and help me stay out of trouble, too.”
~Story and photos by Beth Ipsen, BLM AFS Public Affairs Specialist (firstname.lastname@example.org)