Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Private land managers often learn burning techniques from their own trial and error, but public land managers are subject to strict administrative guidelines relative to fire use. All public employees involved with the use of prescription fires must have a minimum standard for training and/or experience.
For people with major supervisory responsibility on fires, Wright and Bailey (1980) recommended a minimum of 2 years of prescription burning experience which is to include planning, conducting, and evaluating burns to achieve prescribed effects in a safe manner under a range of weather conditions.
For smaller prescription fires on public grasslands in the NGP, all crew members should have the S-130 Basic Firefighter or an equivalent course. Under no circumstances should personnel conduct prescribed burning without completing the required training.
Fire bosses or supervisors should have additional instruction that includes a course on fire behavior. Large fire situations requiring interstate, interagency, or interregional movement of personnel should meet the minimum standards of the National Interagency Fire Qualification System (NIFQS) as published in the NIFQS Handbook of May 1979. Personnel who are part of interagency fire teams or crews should possess "red cards" which are fire job qualification cards certifying ability and training.
Initial classroom instruction usually consists of lectures, films, workshops, symposiums, demonstrations, familiarization with clothing and equipment, and field exercises. Advanced classroom instruction usually involves simulation exercises and mathematical modeling for predicting fire behavior.
Qualification for jobs on a fire crew requires classroom and field instruction plus hands-on fire experience.
People who have not used fire must first overcome their fears and inhibitions about the practice (Martin 1978). It is hard to strike that first match. Even seasoned users know that, with fire, something can always go wrong, that things can get out of control. Firing a prairie will appear to be a drastic move, "when maybe nature would take care of itself."
Too often, people use even the flimsiest of excuses not to burn, and this is just as wrong as burning without caution.
Whenever possible, we suggest that beginning burners work as observers, photographers, or even as apprentice trainees on a prescription fire, but always with direct supervision by an experienced and trained person.
Occasionally circumstances prevent any experience and one must experiment alone with a burn. Under these conditions, the first burn should be very small, just a fraction of an acre, and not too difficult. Conduct the burn where there is low escape risk such as on an island in an open wetland, on a hilltop surrounded by snow, or in a area of upland surrounded by plowed ground.
If you are on a prescription burn, take time after the fire is out to review, from the "why" of the planning to the burning itself. Too often, volunteers and trainee workers are simply given orders but never explanations by the burn boss.
In proper training programs, the importance of each piece of equipment and each task must be explained fully or problems will show up in future efforts.