The Guild Builds New Wildfire Career Pipeline

Natalie Fyffe, first year wildland firefighter and AFWFB crew member, on a prescribed burn at the Join Base San Antonio in Texas (photo by Ben Suerig, Bureau of Land Management).

Written by Meg Matonis

The drip torches are lit, and the Forest Stewards Guild (the Guild) is blazing the path toward a more progressive fire management community. The U.S. Air Force awarded the Guild a contract with multi-year potential to place wildland fire operations technicians at three installations across the country—Joint Base San Antonio in Texas, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, and Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. The U.S. Air Force Wildland Fire Branch (AFWFB) engages in wildfire prevention, fuels management, and wildfire  suppression activities. The goals are to minimize disruptions caused by wildfires on training and testing operations and support natural resource management objectives.

The Guild’s partnership with AFWFB furthers our vision of an inclusive fire program that provides training and employment opportunities and boosts prescribed fire capacity. According to Jennifer Mueller, Guild Training Specialist, “We are building an ecosystem of fire practitioners. We introduce young adults to wildland fire through hands-on training and offer them gainful employment in a supportive environment.” The Guild participates in two career pipelines for young adults from communities that are traditionally under-served and underrepresented. These programs are GulfCorps in the southeast and the Forest Stewards Youth Corps in New Mexico. Jennifer, Tyler Gilbert (Guild Logistics Technician), and Cheyanne Quigley (Guild Technician) led wildfire training for 114 individuals at GulfCorps in fall 2019, and the Guild hired three GulfCorps alumni for the AFWFB project.

The Guild will empower new AFWFB fire operations technicians with training opportunities to develop technical skills around fuels mitigation, prescribed fire and wildfire suppression, as well as crucial soft skills like conflict resolution, leadership, and selfcare. Wildland Fire Support Module (WSM) leaders—employees with the Center for Environmental Management Military Lands, Bureau of Land Management, or University of Montana Center for Integrated Research on the Environment—will oversee daily on-base operations of the AFWFB crews.

The AFWFB crews are forming cohesive teams and getting dirt under their fingernails. According to Natalie Fyffe, AFWFB fire operations technician at the Joint Base San Antonio, “I have been blown away by the supportive community, academic encouragement, and professional connections the Guild and the Airforce Wildland Fire Module have provided me with. The incredible wealth of knowledge and open-door working environment that has been established by our module leaders has astronomically inspired and will continue to impact my experience as I explore and build my career in wildland fire management.”