For the first time in its history, the national Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Program is providing training in the eastern U.S. at the Auburn University Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center in Andalusia, Alabama. The training course, also known as WFAP, dates back to 1989 and is traditionally held in Sacramento, California.
The WFAP has trained more than 2,000 apprentices in wildland firefighting and prepared them for a future as fire managers. Wildland firefighters are dispatched to fight wildfires in national forests throughout the nation including Alabama’s four national forests—Bankhead, Conecuh, Talladega and Tuskegee.
In early February, 48 wildland firefighter apprentices gathered for the first WFAP academy at Auburn’s Dixon Center. They attended classes about fire behavior, fire suppression tactics, weather, safety, leadership, risk management and incident command all taught by seasoned fire experts.
Firefighter apprentices also gained hands-on field experience with situational awareness and tactical decision making, while practicing safety and teamwork skills.
The next academy will be held in March.
“The Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Program develops our future fire and aviation managers in an innovative and unique educational experience, combining classroom and field based hands-on education at the Dixon Center,” said Heath Cota, director of WFAP.
Participating agencies include the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Dixon Center’s 5,300-plus acres features fresh water springs, longleaf pine forests, cypress swamps, frontage along the Conecuh River and the national forest. According to Dixon Center Director Joel Martin, this mix of diverse ecosystems makes the location an excellent outdoor learning environment for forestry and natural resources management.
“At the Dixon Center, students have the unique opportunity to take what they have learned from their classroom instruction and, in the same day, put that ‘theory into practice’ within our longleaf pine forests,” said Martin.
The center was created in 1978 with an initial monetary donation and 80-acre gift of land to Auburn University by the late forestry pioneer, Solon Dixon, and his recently passed widow, Martha Dixon. This land would later combine with another larger deed of property—at the time the largest of its kind in Auburn’s history—to create the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center, a forestry and wildlife conservation education facility operated by the Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.
Located only hours from numerous major cities, the center includes the 6,500-square-foot Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation Learning Center, a state-of-the-art auditorium, classroom and conference room; two large bunkhouses; five semiprivate dormitory buildings; a rec center; administrative building; classroom and computer lab building; maintenance shop; and cafeteria.
“The center is really ideal for this type of long-term immersive training,” said Janaki Alavalapati, dean of Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. “Once a group arrives, all of their needs can be met without leaving the property. This is both convenient and helps students to focus for longer periods, while reducing travel expenses—all things that ultimately lower training costs.
“The Dixons’ vision for this land was to support excellence in forestry education. We know they would be very proud the WFAP recognizes the quality of instruction and experiential learning that can be gained here.”
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