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Annual Burn School Trains Prescribed Fire Professionals

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Tuesday, October 08, 2019
by Brian Mitchell

Each year prescribed fire professionals around the state train to ensure that they are capable of effectively and safely conducting prescribed fire activities. This training entails technical and physical preparation in both classroom and field settings. To meet this need, the annual Prescribed Fire as a Management Tool (PFMT) course (also known as the Arkansas Prescribed Fire Course or Burn School) is hosted each year at Camp Robinson, North Little Rock, Ark. through the Arkansas Prescribed Fire Council (APFC). The council is made up of many public and private stakeholders who use prescribed burning to meet management objectives.

The PFMT course consists of classroom sessions and field exercises that ensure students are able to prepare, conduct, and assess prescribed burns. Students participate in burn plan preparation, execution of two prescribed burns, presentation of a summary for each burn, and must pass a final, written exam.

To be eligible to participate in the five-day Burn School, each student must complete prerequisite training (either online or in a classroom) that meets standards set by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The ANHC also participates in the annual refresher course for this training held by The Arkansas Field Office of The Nature Conservancy.

Along with completing training courses, ANHC staff participates in the Work Capacity Test (WCT), which assesses the fitness standard for wildland fire professionals. WCT assessments are held throughout the year by several different agencies. Different levels of fitness testing are required for different job duties in order to ensure that individuals assigned to fire duties are physically capable of performing their assigned jobs.

The levels of fitness testing are:

  • Arduous- assessment for those who are expected to have above average endurance (aerobic fitness); occasionally participate in extraordinarily strenuous activities; and must lift more than 50 pounds (muscular fitness); staff must complete a 3-mile hike with a 45-pound pack in 45 minutes.
  • Moderate- assessment for those who occasionally participate in moderately strenuous activities and are expected to lift 25-50 pounds; staff must complete a 2-mile hike with a 25-pound pack in 30 minutes.
  • Light- assessment for those who occasionally participate in field activity; staff must complete a 1-mile hike in 16 minutes without a pack.

The ANHC requires core members of our prescribed burn crew to test at the moderate capacity level, but some staff members choose to complete the arduous level. Knowing how crewmembers have performed in these assessments allows a burn boss to assign tasks such as igniting within the interior boundaries of a burn unit to those staff members who are capable of conducting this level of physically demanding tasks.

For those who wish to pursue additional training, the NWCG and FEMA offer numerous courses in wildland fire training and the Incident Command System (designed as a standardized approach for emergency response scenarios).


Top - A Prescribed Fire School participant using a drip torch during a burn.

Middle - ANHC Land Management Specialist Rob Lacy during the 2019 Prescribed Fire as a Management Tool course. 

Bottom - ANHC and Arkansas State Parks staff members who participated in the 2019 Prescribed Fire as a Management Tool course.

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