Submitted by Alicia Bennett, Public Affairs Officer, U. S. Forest Service Job Corps
Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center (CCCs) Assistant Fire Management Officers (AFMOs) ensure that students enrolled in CCC wildland firefighting programs receive top-notch training. But what elevates the students’ training are their experiential work-based learning opportunities on national forests and grasslands, made possible through the professional networks forged by Job Corps AFMOs.
Four Great Onyx and three Pine Knot CCC students recently completed three-month paid apprenticeships on the Umpqua National Forest. Great Onyx students Albert Kemp, Ernesto Serrano, Dwayne Smith and Amand White, all enrolled in the welding trade, staffed two Type 4 engines on the North Umpqua Ranger District for North Zone Fire Management. Pine Knot students Angelina Soileau and Logan Adams, enrolled in Forestry Conservation and Firefighting, and Aljay Williams, enrolled in welding, helped complete a 20-person Type 2 Initial Attack Hand Crew on the Diamond Lake Ranger District.
Conversations with Thomlinson’s students reveal just how important internship opportunities are to the career development of Job Corps wildland firefighting students. “I learned a lot more about the fire world,” says student Logan Adams. “It felt like a better learning experience because it was less ‘check off the boxes’ and more ‘get the job done’—there was less handholding and more just figure it out.” Unlike many students who enroll in a Forest Service Job Corps center, Adams enrolled with the intent to become a wildland firefighter.
Angelina Soileau echoes Adam’s sentiments. “They [Umpqua National Forest Diamond Lake Type 2 Initial Attack Hand Crew] treated us as equals, both physically, mentally, and workwise. We just did the same work they did.”
The Umpqua National Forest has traditionally hired students from Western CCCs to beef up their fire modules. In 2023, Daniel Boone National Forest AFMO Kevin Thomlinson, who oversees the Kentucky CCC wildland firefighting programs, leaned into his professional network and reached out to North Umpqua Ranger District Forestry Technician Fhurer Orejuela to expand paid work-based learning (WBL) opportunities for his wildland firefighting students.
Workdays for Soileau and Adams varied but most days were spent patrolling and chasing lightning strikes. “There is a culture in each area you work in,” says Adams. “I enjoyed learning the difference from working on the Umpqua versus what I did on assignment on Yosemite National Park–from the work ethic to the way fires are treated is very different and it was cool to learn.”
Work-based learning partnerships between national forests and grasslands and Job Corps CCCs have many mutual benefits and strengthen the agency’s firefighting workforce. Host forests get much-needed assistance and exposures employees to the Job Corps program. Apprenticeships train students for good jobs and allow them to earn while they learn. They gain valuable wildland fire experience working in a variety of fuel types and conditions. Students work with and observe seasoned wildland firefighters and have the opportunity to network and gain references that are helpful as they pursue career positions. Finally, the money students earn and save can be life changing, helping ease their transition to independent living after graduation.
“It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had with Job Corps,” says Adams who wants the opportunity extended to him is made available to other students. “I really do hope that other students are able to have this experience because it was amazing.”
“We saw a lot of potential in all of them,” says Orejuela, who encouraged all of the students to apply for 1039 positions. The Umpqua National Forest aimed for a 1:1 ratio of students to staff and mentoring was a big part of the students’ WBL experience. Umpqua staff set aside time at the end of the season to assist students with career guidance, navigating USA jobs, and providing tips and pointers on the interviewing process “We offer them a glimpse of what fire is like,” says Orejuela. If they are set on a different career path, we encourage them to do what they think is right–there is always next year.”
These partnerships with Job Corps Centers—the biggest one being the availability of meals and housing for the students. The lack of housing and meals has often prevented placement of Job Corps students on forests that requested placements. Fortunately for the Umpqua, Wolf Creek Job Corps’ culinary arts instructor Nicole Kuhn stepped up to deliver the student’s meals. The student bunked down with Umpqua employees in typical staff housing.
The efforts of the Job Corps Fire Program directly support the agency’s strategic goal of sustaining our nation’s forests and grasslands and delivering benefits to the public. If your forest or region are interested in hosting wildland firefighting interns from the Frenchburg, Great Onyx, or Pine Knot Job Corps CCCs, contact Daniel Boone National Forest Assistant Fire Management Officer Kevin Thomlinson at 606-768-7023 or [email protected].