Michigan Crew Boss Academy Develops Firefighters into Leaders

10-day class for wildland firefighters develops leadership

 

Real-life exercises with fire were part of the Crew Boss Academy workshop, where wildland firefighters from across the country came to Fort Custer near Battle Creek to build their leadership skills. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources hosted the event along with the Prescribed Fire Council and The Nature Conservancy. (Michigan DNR photo)

 

Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Targeted News Service

LANSING, Mich. – Three dozen wildland firefighters from around the country knew for sure they were going to find a lot of class work during the 10-day Crew Boss Academy at Fort Custer. The intensive workshop crams four separate firefighting management classes into busy mornings.

It was during afternoon exercises on this military base near Battle Creek, Michigan, when they got some surprises.

On the scene of a grass fire, they might encounter a person recruited to play a disgruntled landowner. Dispatched to a fire site, they might come across a simulated car accident and stop to help while calling for another engine to proceed to the fire.

Firefighters in the Crew Boss Academy head out for an exercise. “They did live fire scenarios with DNR engines on site,” said Paul Rogers, forest fire officer supervisor with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “They were dispatched like they were going to a real fire.”

The classes and exercises conducted in October were part of a nationwide workshop to help wildland firefighters learn to manage crews of four to 21 people. Like real-life firefighting, days were long, work was hard and team-building was vital.


Crew Boss Academy participants from around the country head out to an exercise, shovels in hand. (Michigan DNR photo)

“Essentially what they’re doing is emphasizing how to be a better leader,” said Maria Albright, a longtime firefighter who works as a wildlife technician at the Allegan State Game Area. “They want to help you get better at taking charge of firefighters with less experience than you.”

Meeting other leadership candidates from across the country was critically important, she said, as participants were able to share experiences.

“We were talking about similar things that we all do, but we kind of come at it differently,” she said of participants, which included eight Michigan DNR firefighters from the wildlife and forest resources divisions and visitors from 20 agencies in 12 other states: Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia.


A sand table was used to model and discuss potential fire scenarios during Crew Boss Academy, an intense 10-day workshop designed to train wildland firefighters from around the country as leaders of four- to 21-member crews. (Michigan DNR photo)

The training was hosted by the DNR, the Michigan Prescribed Fire Council and The Nature Conservancy, with support from other agencies as well. It rolls four separate certification classes into just over a week. Individual courses focus on leadership, the urban interface, crew boss issues such as handling personnel and engine boss, which deals with equipment handling. The urban interface refers to times when wildland fires run into homes, subdivisions and towns or cities.


Participant Maria Albright, a Michgian DNR wildlife technician, makes her way through a Crew Boss Academy exercise. (Michigan DNR photo)

“It’s just an intense, consolidated series of training,” said Dan Laux, fire specialist with the DNR and training coordinator. “It’s important because we always like to keep folks moving into leadership roles.”

The work is not done when the Crew Boss Academy workshop is complete. Participants now are working though “task books,” which document their real-life experience as leaders. They’ll have to get others to sign that they have completed 75 to 122 crew boss-related jobs and responsibilities within the next three years to become officially certified. The tasks include a variety of skills ranging from getting complete information from dispatch, to safely traveling to the assignment. Respect and integrity are covered right along with tactics.


Firefighters balance themselves on boards during an exercise at Crew Boss Academy, which brought three dozen firefighters from Michigan and across the country to learn how to be leaders. The workshop was in early October at Fort Custer near Battle Creek and was hosted by the DNR, the Prescribed Fire Council and The Nature Conservancy. (Michigan DNR photo)

Albright said she understands the need for qualified leaders in the field, and is looking forward to finishing her task book.

After thinking about it for some time, she said she is glad she finally went through the Crew Boss Academy.

“I think the strength of this thing is, you sit in a class for a little bit and you go outside and do what you were just talking about, or do it on sand tables or in simulation exercises,” Albright said. “You’re applying what you just talked about.”


The DNR provided trucks and other equipment for the Crew Boss Academy exercises. (Michigan DNR photo)

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.

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