By Shawna Hartman; edited by Rachel Peterson
The Kansas Forest Service Mitigation Project was organized in 2005 to train Fire Science students at Hutchinson Community College (HCC) in wildland fire situations. In its first year, the event consisted of one Kansas Forest Service Employee, one HCC instructor, and a class of less than 20 students. The project has continued to grow and is now in its 11th year, with 33 students participating last year. For six years the project was operated near Manhattan, KS. Students constructed 300 yards of fire line and treated over 400 acres of public land with prescribed fire. Each year, more HCC fire science students have used their spring break to receive a taste of life as a wildland firefighter.
In 2007, the students returned to Manhattan over their December break from school to help with more hazardous fuels mitigation. However, an ice storm hit the area and the students spent their week cleaning up local trails, parks, right-of-ways, and cemeteries. Jason Hartman, Kansas Forest Service Fire Protection Specialist and coordinator for the Project, said “this was not the experience the students expected, but it’s realistic of the job of a fire fighter. You never know what you might be asked to do; it is best to be flexible.”
In 2010, the Kansas Forest Service (KFS) moved the project to their newly acquired Jackman property near Leon, KS. This move provided the fire staff with new challenges in operating the project. Being farther from the logistical support of a larger community and the KFS state office, the KFS fire staff began implementing the Incident Command System. This system provided more support to the firefighters and created a more realistic training experience.
To improve the experience of the HCC students, the KFS staff began inviting firefighters with wildland experience to fill leadership positions within the program. For three years the project was based exclusively in Butler County. In that time period, the crews were able to mitigate fuel hazards for over 700 acres by means of prescribed burns prior to the drought which slowed burning starting in 2012.
In 2013, KFS received a grant provided by the US Forest Service. This grant covered the cost of fuels reduction on public lands where life or property could be harmed in the event of a wildfire. Building on the interagency approach, KFS formed a cooperation with Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism. Since then, the project has been held at any Kansas state park in need of fuels mitigation.
To insure both the fuel reduction component and the training were being accomplished, the project required additional qualified firefighters and equipment. The number of agencies involved increased, as well as the number of training opportunities. Wildland firefighters saw the Mitigation Project as an opportunity for off-season training and a chance to broaden their fire experience. KFS fire staff implemented an application process because of the increased interest among firefighters around the country.
In 2014, KFS continued to expand the wildfire component and also worked with the Southeast and South-central Homeland Security regional Incident Management Teams to incorporate the All Hazard Incident Management experience.
This year the project will again expand on the skills of the KFS fire staff and cooperators as they meet in Hutchinson Kansas for Mitigation 2015. Hutchinson was chosen for the project because this region of Kansas has had some of the largest and most destructive wildfires in the state. The work will be done on Sand Hills State Park and Prairie Dunes Country Club. Both locations are closely bordered by homeowners who recognize the importance of reducing burnable fuel hazards in the wooded land adjacent to their property.