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In 2008 a federal agency fire training coordinator asked Nature Conservancy staff for help in addressing a persistent and widespread shortage of qualified prescribed burners. In response, Nature Conservancy Fire Learning Network (FLN) and training staff worked with the field to design a novel program that provides training and learning opportunities for wildland fire professionals while at the same time furthering the long-term objectives of FLN landscapes. Although exchanges can take different forms, a typical exchange matches the specific learning objectives of individuals from several states and organizations with a fire event. These two- to three-week events include daily burning and give trainees a concentrated dose of prescribed fire experience as well as exposure to new people, places and techniques.

A wildland firefighter typically starts his or her career as a Type 2 Basic Firefighter after taking four training courses and passing a fitness test. To advance from there, and to perform more advanced roles (known as positions) on the fire line such an Engine Boss, one must complete additional coursework in addition to satisfactorily performing certain tasks during an actual fire incident. These tasks, and one’s performance completing them, are documented in a Position Task Book (PTB).

Training exchanges are deliberately designed to create opportunities for trainees to work on their PTBs and receive evaluations from qualified trainers. The host units, meanwhile, get qualified workers to help with large or complex burn events. The experience goes way beyond working on PTBs, however. For example, hosts typically schedule activities to demonstrate both fire’s role in landscape conservation and local fire management practices, teach trainees about local fuel types and fire ecology, and integrate fire practitioners with local stakeholders and natural resource managers.

Watch a video from the 2013 Spanish Language training exchange or an archived webinar on lessons learned in the 2013 Black Lake training exchange. For more information, contact Jeremy Bailey.​​​

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