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Job Corps provides hazardous fuels reduction modules to national forests

Young man standing in full firefighting gear, axe in hand, next to a controlled fire
Frenchburg Job Corps student Khalid Collins, a member of the JC8L module, works on the Hare Mountain Rx on March 17, 2019. USDA Forest Service photo.

COLORADO – Catastrophic wildfires charring our national forests and grasslands are having a destructive impact on the landscape. Uncontrolled fires threaten human life, adversely affect air quality, cause immense economic loss and have the potential to throw an entire ecosystem off-balance.

Seeking new ways to combat these fires, USDA Forest Service fire leadership and Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers are deploying modules that are game changers. These modules place safe, highly mobile and logistically independent prescribed fire modules on the ground to help rid forests of the dead vegetation and underbrush that helps spread uncontrolled fires.

A fledgling program in 2016, Job Corps prescribed fire modules have blossomed into a national initiative that forests and grasslands rely on to meet their fire and hazardous fuels reduction management objectives. Over the past five months, 15 prescribed fire module units, composed of students from eight separate CCCs, have burned 74,017 acres of hazardous fuels across eight national forests in the Southern Region.

Students from Cass, Jacobs Creek Great Onyx, Pine Knot, Frenchburg, Harpers Ferry, Oconaluftee and Lyndon B. Johnson Job Corps Centers participated on the modules.

The eight-person modules are typically comprised of four Job Corps students and four Forest Service staff members, with the latter providing leadership and training to the former. Fire personnel from senior firefighters to district fire management are knocking down the proverbial door for the opportunity to participate.

“I had a fantastic time working with the Job Corp program back east and will jump at the opportunity in the future,” said Deschutes National Forest Senior Engine Captain Creed Pendleton. “I’m going to share with my supervisors how the program can be utilized locally and provide another avenue for recruiting and employee retention.”  

Since the modules began work in the Southern Region, 62 Job Corps students and 64 overhead staff from every Forest Service region, excepting Alaska and the Southwest. Additionally, participants logged 117,659 miles to work in an array of vegetation and fuel types. Staff representing 18 national forests worked on the modules.

Firefirghter using GPS mapping technology in his cellphone
Pine Knot Job Corps student Rene Woodley, a member of the JC8J module, utilizes mapping technology on his smartphone to ensure he’s applying fire in the correct location on March 9, 2019. USDA Forest Service photo.

All modules worked a combined 33,779 hours, with Job Corps students having worked 14,382 of these. While working on prescribed burns and other non-suppression projects, Job Corps students earn Public Land Corps credit hours in lieu of being paid. Students who earn their Public Lands Corps certificate can apply for career federal government positions under the “Merit” hiring system.  

Of the 14,382 student hours, 9,900 were non-suppression. Based upon the Independent Sector valuation of $24.56 per hour, work done under these modules provided $251,757 of economic value to the eight national forests in the Southern Region.

From January 30 through May 1, 2019, the modules spent a total of 121 days preparing acreage to burn; they conducted successful burns on 56 days.

 The first priority of the Job Corps fire modules is safety for both the firefighters and the public and they are conducted when the conditions indicate that there will be minimal impact to the public. During this period, the only injury recorded was a minor wrist laceration and one vehicle suffered a scrape from an unruly young sampling.

Job Corps students gain valuable wildland fire experience working in a variety of fuel types and conditions by participating on the modules. The host forests get much-needed assistance in their hazardous fuels programs at a significant reduction in cost to the agency.

Three firefighters walk by the side of the road next to a prescribed fire
Frenchburg Job Corps student Taja Carney, a member of module JC8L, works on the Franklin Creek Rx on March 7, 2019. USDA Forest Service photo

Job Corps module assignments ended for the season in the Southern Region. Crews were moved to the Eastern Region where they will work through June. Fire aviation and Job Corps leadership are now working to deploy additional modules this fall.

Prescribed burns are designed to return fire as a natural part of the ecosystem. In addition to eliminating dead underbrush, improving timber stands and reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfires, the burns benefited a variety of animal species, including red-cockaded woodpeckers (Leuconotopicus borealis) in Florida and wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) in Mississippi.

The efforts of the 24 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers directly supports our agency’s strategic goal of sustaining our nation’s forests and grasslands and delivering benefits to the public. If your Forest Service Region is interested in hosting a Job Corps fuels module, contact the acting Region 8/Region 9 Job Corps Fire Field Coordinators. Stephen Polk, 803-960-0701, stephen.polk@usda.gov or Kevin Tomlinson, 859-912-2273, kevin.tomlinson@usda.gov.

Two firefighters working the field during a prescribed fire operation
Cass Job Corps students, members of the JC8M module, work on the Rx fire line on the Ozark National Forest on March 22, 2019. USDA Forest Service photo by Jon Blackburn.
A group of Job Corps Module volunteers gathered together for a breifing
Members of the Frenchburg Job Corps JC8L fire module gather for a briefing on March 7, 2019, in preparation of the Franklin Creek Rx. USDA Forest Service photo.
A man in firefighter uniform using a trimmer
Pine Knot Job Corps student Markis Moore, a member of module JC8J, utilizes a brush cutter to prepare RCW trees on March 4, 2019. USDA Forest Service photo.
A couple of young adults in firefighting uniforms pose for the camera
Pine Knot Job Corps students Markis Moore and Rene Woodley, members of module JC8J, connect while catching a break from firing the interior of the Oakhead Compartment, Osceola National Forest, on March 11, 2019. USDA Forest Service photo.