In March 2006, the USDA Forest Service approached Southwestern College to set up a Basic Wildland Firefighter Academy at the college as part of the new Southern California Consortium developed by the Forest Service to facilitate hiring and training new seasonal firefighters for the May to December fire season every year.
Under the Consortium, the USDA Forest Service provides equipment and instructors, and Southwestern College provides classrooms and college credit. (The students pay regular tuition to the college in order to receive college credits for the course.) Those who successfully complete the course and perform satisfactorily in practical skills will have the opportunity to apply for jobs with the Forest Service, the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, or any other federal agency in need of wildland firefighters. Jobs are available locally in the southern California area, statewide and nationwide. The certifications the students earn will also help qualify them to apply for CalFire jobs.
The course, FS 144, consists of classroom lectures, physical fitness training and hands-on skills. Students in the academy learn how to cut a fire break, do a progressive hose lay, do a mobile attack with an engine, roll up hose, use torches and deploy emergency fire shelters. There are time tests for many of the skills and certifications. Physical fitness training also includes practice for a physical ability test in which students wear 45 lb vests while walking three miles in 45 minutes or less. The students train outside around the college as well as off-campus in rural areas for realistic training exercises in brush areas.
The Basic Wildland Academy course content includes requirements from the following National Wildfire Coordinating Group certifications: S-130 Wildland Firefighter Training; S- 190 Intro to Wildland Fire Behavior; L-180 Human Factors on the Fire Line; and ICS 100 Intro to Incident Command System.
At the end of the academy, management personnel from the Forest Service come to the college to observe testing, hand-out certificates and recruit for seasonal and permanent jobs with the Forest Service. Students interested in employment start the application process immediately for seasonal, emergency on-call and apprentice wildland firefighter jobs including engine, hotshot and helitack crews.
The next Wildland Firefighter Academy at Southwestern College will start in January 2013 and finish well before the fire season officially starts in May. For more information look in the Spring Class Schedule under Fire Science Technology and on our website: www.swccd.edu/wildland (Uniform requirements are listed on the webpage.)
Typical class meeting schedule: FS 144-360 (5 units)
6:00-9:50 p.m. Thurs. and 8:00-5:00 Sat. 11-12 Weeks: mid-Jan. to end of March.
An Orientation meeting is held a few days before the class starts. Students must be cleared by a medical doctor prior to participating in physical fitness training.