Editor’s note: This article did not previously include the name for the course, Wildland Fire Control (NR 204). It has been updated to include the course designation and number. We apologize for any confusion.
Some lucky students are leaving their textbooks behind and showing off their new “Learn by Firefighting” skills by practicing putting out fake fires in realistic situations.
Wildland Fire Control (NR 204) is all-encompassing and teaches beginning fire fighting skills, said natural resources lecturer Doug Aversano, who teaches this specific class. In addition to introducing the basics of wildland fire behavior, fire physics and explaining emergency medical responses, students complete four training certificates that are used by all agencies after they finish the course.
“Having the certifications already completed is a real benefit to employees when they show up with the training under the belt, making the students highly marketable,” Aversano said.
Aversano dedicated 32 years to firefighting and said he enjoys being able to pass on his experiences and knowledge to potential firefighters.
“I’ve always thought about giving basic training to fire fledglings, and placing folks in professional jobs has always been a goal,” Aversano said.
The course is offered to all students, no matter what major they are in. This allows for the class to have a diversity of students in different fields and for the students to experience a diversity of classes.
For some, the class opened the door to a profession they never would have imagined going into. Kinesiology senior Neil Sundberg said he changed his entire career path after taking this course.
Before beginning his education at Cal Poly, Sundberg served in the military and spent some of his deployment in Afghanistan. He entered Cal Poly with the intention of pursuing a career in kinesiology, but after taking a few forestry and natural resources classes, however, he discovered a career in firefighting was the perfect fit for his military background.
“There are certain skills you learn in the military,” Sundberg said. “We are trained to move around with heavy equipment, deal with harsh working conditions and survive in high-stress situations. This type of physical training and mentality helps carry on to putting out a fire.”
In addition to helping the students fulfill the certificate requirements and understand the basics of wildland fire control, Aversano brought in guest speakers of all different government levels who helped students understand the different types of backgrounds and career fields.
Departments from the local, state and federal level bring engines, equipment and personnel to help train students. In addition to providing outside training, the participation from these agencies creates an ideal atmosphere for networking.
“Everyone who Aversano brought in as a guest speaker was phenomenal,” Sundberg said. “They are very friendly toward veterans and I’ve had the opportunity to meet firefighters in different crews and have been invited on ride-alongs.”
After Sundberg graduates this spring, he will be working full time for Fulson Lake Hand Crew, an all-veteran federal wildland firefighting crew.
“If these classes were not offered at Cal Poly, I never would have had gotten the opportunity or the idea to get hired and pursue this as a fulltime career,” Sundberg said.
Art and design senior Nicole Vose was introduced to forestry and natural resources when she took Fire and Society (NR 308) to fulfill her D5 general education requirement. Aversano also taught this class and convinced her to take Wildland Fire Control to explore her interest in this profession.
The labs were very helpful because of the agencies that came out to help show them the ropes, she said. One of her favorite labs was the demonstration of a “mobile attack,” in which students learn how to use engines lined with hoses in the front bumper for a mock fire suppression drill.
“It’s been really helpful to be actually doing what we are learning instead of just sitting in the classroom reading a book,” Vose said.
Aversano’s lectures have also helped explain the material in a more relatable fashion, Vose said. He teaches a lot through stories and videos, which help the students understand how to deal with different situations as opposed to simply explaining the vocabulary.
Her favorite aspect, however, was being able to work with actual firefighters who are currently in the profession. This experience, along with the amount of certification received will be really helpful when applying for jobs, she said. She is currently considering getting her EMT license next summer and is confident her certifications and networking will help in pursuing this career.