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Morrisville State College students participate in NYSDEC wildland firefighter training

MORRISVILLE, NY— The sounds of shovels and axes echoed in the hills of Morrisville recently as volunteers and Morrisville State College students worked together to build a fireline to contain a “fire” in the college’s woods.

The fire wasn’t real—but the lesson was.

The students, Heather Bull, of Verbank, N.Y., Megan Gregory, of Endwell, N.Y., Zach Kochanowski, of Waterville, N.Y., Ryan Raker, of Endwell, N.Y., Eric Renfer, of Canastota, N.Y., Andrew Schmidt, of Westmoreland, N.Y., and Nick Wilcox, of Sherburne, N.Y., received instruction from a group of NYSDEC Forest Rangers led by Forest Ranger Scott Jackson as part of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s “Firefighter Training.”

Morrisville State College Assistant Professor Brendan Kelly, who has experience fighting wildfires in New York, New Hampshire, and Florida, was working on the line with his students, while rangers observed the students and another firefighter graded them.

Kelly, a former NYS forester, teaches in the Environmental Sciences Department at the college where most of the students in the wildfire training are enrolled in the natural resources conservation program. Some of the students in the wildfire training were being graded as part of a special project where they receive academic credit for the federal course.

Forest rangers William Giraud and James Prunoske observed as students cut through the duff on the forest floor down to mineral soil building a fireline, an area cleared of vegetation and organic matter – fuel that could burn – in the hopes of stopping an advancing ground fire.

According to Kelly, students requested the training to get their Red Cards, a qualification that will enable them to serve on federal wildfire incidents as firefighters. Although the school does include forest protection in their Natural Resources Conservation curriculum, the forest rangers were there to ensure the students met the federal standards from the course work they had taken.

“Some of our students will go on to be wildland firefighters out in the Western United States and we need to ensure that our students meet the same standards as all basic wildland firefighters,” Kelly said.

Kelly hopes to get his students additional experience working on prescribed burns, planned and controlled fires that help meet management objectives for natural resources, with the US Fish and Wildlife Service at their refuges.

“This is our classroom, wetlands, lakes, ponds, streams, and forests it is all connected,” Kelly said. “Fire can be a tool in the natural resources manager’s toolbox, other times it can change thousands of acres and thousands of lives. It is important for our students to see and respect both sides of fire.”

Morrisville State College sets the world in motion for students. Curriculums are enriched with applied learning and pave the way for opportunity at both the Morrisville and Norwich campuses. An action-oriented, interactive learning lab, the college is a national leader in technology. Visit to experience, Morrisville in motion.