PFTC/Tall Timbers Impact on Prescribed Fire around the World

By Greg Seamon, Fire Training Specialist

The mission of National Prescribed Fire Training Center (PFTC) is to maintain a center of excellence for prescribed fire, with an emphasis on actual field experience, in order to increase skills and knowledge and build confidence in the application of prescribed fire. PFTC began in 1998 from a conversation among some southeastern prescribed fire practitioners and grew with support from all the federal land management agencies, a number of state agencies and important non-governmental organizations including Tall Timbers. Tall Timbers has hosted PFTC field trips from the very beginning, including the 20-day sessions and the Resource Specialist Workshops. Additionally Tall Timbers has an agreement with PFTC to provide support for a Fire Training Specialist co-located between PFTC and the Station.

Through the 2014 fiscal year, PFTC has hosted 2,148 attendees for their 20-day sessions, Agency Administrators Workshops, Resource Specialist Workshops, and Fire Management Officer Workshops. Included in those students have been a number of international participants. There have been participants from sixteen countries outside the US (Table 1). These fire practitioners come to PFTC for a number of reasons.  In some cases, the Dominican Republic is one example, there is no prescribed fire activity and the participants attend to learn about the possibility of initiating controlled burns. In other instances, Australia is a good example; the attendees are interested in the training program and the potential for organizing a similar center in their country. Twenty-two attendees from the last six years were contacted to follow-up on their prescribed fire experiences in the southeast and how those experiences have changed how they view prescribed fire in their own countries. The results are interesting.

Of the twenty-two international students contacted, ten responded. All were overwhelmingly positive about their training at PFTC and travels throughout the southeastern US. Carlos Rossa from Portugal, a 2011 attendee, stated, “It was one of the most profound experiences in my life, not only regarding the learning on fire management and prescribed fire, but also having the opportunity of meeting people from a different culture that made me feel so welcome.” Some of the important take home lessons for these students are the organization and planning that goes into implementing prescribed burns. Andre Chalabi, a 2013 participant from British Columbia, Canada, reported that he is using a spreadsheet burn plan format that he picked up from Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida. Juan Jose Fernandez Ortiz from Spain is using the information he gained on contingency planning and smoke management to incorporate those elements into his agency’s burn plans for the first time ever. A number of the students have taken a burn organizer and a fire effects data book and adapted them to fit their fuels and agencies. 

Joshua Bull, Managing Director for Firelands Consultancy in Queensland, Australia, noted a number of differences between prescribed fire in the US and Australia. He felt that our attention to smoke management and policy was an important message. He especially felt that the talk on smoke on roads was relevant to his area. This was echoed by Matt Wellington, also from Queensland. In addition, Matt commented that there was no training in Australia that offered the scale and “real life” burning provided through PFTC.

Quite a few participants remarked on how the training had opened up their fire careers. Colleen Ross, the first Canadian to attend PFTC in 2011, stated that participating in PFTC “opened up a door to opportunity.” She has helped get four more of her colleagues into the sessions, two of those members now sit on a prescribed burning committee and she is part of the provincial prescribed fire council. Matt Corbett from Ontario, Canada said, “To this day I pass the torch and share my experiences. I brought back to my country and province enhanced skills that are transferable, allowing me to assist with cultivating a viable prescribed fire program.”

PFTC asks each module during the sessions to compile a list of take-home messages from their training.  A small smattering of those from this group include: remembering that flexibility is key in prescribed fire; we pick the day to burn in conjunction with fire science, weather forecasts and art; take a minute and make a plan, don’t make a plan a minute; be patient, let the fire do the work while maintaining operational momentum.

In summary, PFTC welcomes international participation with any of the trainings. The background of the attendees adds so much to the learning experience. Carlos Rossa from Portugal ended his comments with, “the program at PFTC is unique in the world and should be followed by other countries, namely in Europe. It is inspiring how, with such a slim structure in terms of human resources, you can accomplish so much in terms of results. I still carry the hope of returning to Florida to attend another session at PFTC.”

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