While some students were consumed with finding warmth during spring break, the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point Fire Crew was focused on creating and containing it.
To gain experience in prescribed burns, eight members of the crew drove 21 hours straight to Orange Park, Florida, and quickly got to work helping the St. John’s River Water Management District. Altogether the crew performed four prescribed burns totaling over 4,000 acres across the state, from North East Florida to Central Florida in a week.
A prescribed burn is a fire that is started and contained within certain boundaries to stimulate new tree growth and open up areas for new habitats. A prescribed burn may sound harmful but it is actually used to reduce fuel build up in the land during cooler months so that the likelihood of more serious fires developing is decreased in warmer months.
"There may be one other UW school that has a fire crew or had one … but at this point, we’re pretty much the only resource.
Granted, there are not many prescribed fires in Stevens Point, so we send squads of six to eight to help surrounding areas. We also try to do a winter and spring break trip every year to gain more experience with other terrains," said Kristin Miller, secretary of the UWSP Fire Crew and planner of the spring break trip.
The UWSP Fire Crew is a professional, highly trained, statewide resource so traveling is nothing new to them. The primary focus of the fire crew is to suppress wild land fire by staffing attack squads and crews, emergency firefighter riders, and fire tower observers during times of high risk for fires. The crew is not used for structure burns, such as houses, but has worked for wild land fire agencies in many areas, including outside of Wisconsin.
The fire crew learned of this spring break opportunity through Kristen Miller’s father who works for the agency.
"People from their agency have been up here three times before to teach training classes for our fire crew. But going there allowed us to use different equipment, work in different fuels, and work with different people. That was the biggest thing we learned, I think. Figuring out how to work as a cohesive group and communicate, even when we were from different crews was great experience," Miller said.
Miller’s father has not only been an influence on the UWSP Fire Crew, but has helped inspire Miller’s career aspirations.
"I learned about all of this through observing my dad at work and took training classes to become certified. When I came here for forestry school, I joined the fire crew to become more involved. Next spring I’m going to double major in Fire Science to help me pursue a career with a federal agency like Fire Incorporated," Miller said.
The fire science major studies aspects of the fire service profession such as behavior of fire, fire extinguishment, rescue, and relevant environmental policy. UWSP is going to be second in the state to offer this major and will offer students other ways to get involved with natural resources.