College students gain first-hand firefighting experience on district lands

PALATKA, Fla., Jan. 15, 2016 — The St. Johns River Water Management District is partnering with college students in an effort to share their knowledge and expertise about prescribed burns. Recently, 20 students from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point’s (UWSP) Fire Crew visited the district for hands-on training managing prescribed fires. The goal of the training is to help students gain diverse experience in wildfires in a safe environment.

“Our employees are some of the best in the field when it comes to prescribed burns and this is a great opportunity to share that wisdom with future graduates,” said District Executive Director Ann Shortelle. “This collaboration provides excellent educational opportunities and promotes the importance of protecting and improving our natural resources to a new generation.”

In partnership with Florida State Parks and Camp Blanding, students and district staff participated in 10prescribed fires over the course of a week. Working within Gold Head Branch State Park in Keystone Heights, district staff identified burn locations as students participated in fire planning techniques, communication and coordination. Prescribed fires help protect natural resources and safely reduce the risk of wildfires

The UWSP Fire Crew is a nationally recognized wildland firefighting organization. Students represent a variety of majors. The Fire Crew provides knowledge and experience to members interested in wildland firefighting. While the students regularly travel to other states to gain experience, Florida’s climate makes it an ideal location for training during the winter months.