Clemson University Fire Tigers

Clemson University Fire Tigers

The Southern Appalachians, historically,
fires are happening in some regularity, you had natural ignitions from lightning,
you also had ignitions from Native Americans, then what happened in the
early part of the 20th century is fires were suppressed and fires were excluded,
you take fire out of the equation and the forests start to change. You start losing
certain fire adapted species, you get this buildup of fuels just dead plant
material that accumulates over time. Prescribed fire is a management tool
that we use to reduce hazardous fuels, to take these forests that have changed
pretty dramatically due to fire suppression and put fire back on the
landscape and try to convert them back to something more similar to what they
were a hundred or more years ago. The US Forest Service has a partnership with Clemson and it’s to sponsor the Fire Tigers program, which is a student-led fire crew. These students
get all of their training through US Forest Service standards, and then they have the opportunity to get out on Forest Service prescribed fires and Forest
Service wildfires. So, the students for us is great. It gives
us a chance to give back to people that want to do this in the future. It’s also great because anytime you try to teach a subject, you end up learning it a little
more in-depth yourself. It’s all across the board very positive. I think one of the biggest things with
this is it gives the students a good, safe foundation to build from. They adhere to those national standards and they’re officially red carded and could
really work anywhere in the country It really kind of gives you a leg up,
especially when you’re applying to jobs, to already be certified in this stuff because
people don’t have to train you, they don’t have to send you to school, you have the experience and you’re ready to go. We’re very lucky at Clemson to be
situated only 30 minutes from the Sumter National Forest, so it gives these students
an opportunity to very quickly be in a Forest Service truck with their
equipment on the way to a fire. And that is unique in itself because not every university that has a program similar to this has that opportunity. These freshmen and sophomores that enter into this program immediately get plugged
into this great network of professionals. And when it comes time to apply for a
job later on down the road, maybe with one of those agencies, those
professionals are going to know, they’ll be able to vouch for the quality of
those students because they’ve been out in the field of them on the fire line
first thing in the morning or late in the evening. Once I graduate, I have connections that I can use to then get jobs and see
opportunities that are out there. If Fire Tigers were around when I was
a student, I definitely would have taken part in it. It’s an opportunity to learn skills,
but it’s also opportunity to get a summer job and go out West and fight
wildfires. Its opportunity to make some money and get experience. I really love being able to take young
people who love the outdoors as much as I do and to show them our craft: the
ability to use fire to restore ecosystems, to enhance wildlife, to reduce
fuels. It’s just really neat to see them, their eyes light up in this new field to
use fire in a positive way

Randy Schultz

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