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3 Years of Fire

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

By Virginia Schutte

Experiencing a prescribed burn for the first time. Photo by Virginia Schutte.

By the time you read this, I will have exited my role with NAFSE. I spent 3 fantastic years contributing to the organization first as a Communications Specialist and then as the Communications Director. Here are some ways that being a part of the fire science world has changed me.

1) The northeast fire community has upped my standard for who I'll work with. Do you remember in school when group work was the worst, but the teachers insisted that you learn to work with the people around you because "you'll have to do it in the real world"? Science communication positions are a model for those exercises. SciComm roles require working with lots of different people and the work is often done better if you can muster some empathy for the folks around you. I've had a varied set of teamwork experiences at this point in my career, but I realized just a few months after joining the NAFSE team that I could be my entire self in NAFSE spaces. The respect, camaraderie, and united sense of purpose shared by the northeast fire science community changed what I think it means to be valued in the workplace.

2) I look at terrestrial landscapes differently now. I have a background in marine science, and with just a few minutes tromping through the mud or snorkeling up to a reef, I start to build a story of the place. I know intuitively some things about how it came to its current condition and I can guess at what its future might look like, and what the people who care about the space may have on their minds. Being regularly inundated with fire science and management history, principles, challenges, and solutions has me wondering about the fire story of new (on land) places I come across. For example I screeched to a halt during a run through the UK countryside last December because the neighborhood butted up against a pine forest. I found myself crouching down on the side of the highway, trying to see through the fence to check whether the trees had scorch marks and if there was too much fuel lying around (there was I think!).

3) I want to be like the fire folk that rely on non-negotiable protocols and ...well, also like the people that work at the edges of protocol to get things done. I really appreciate the ease of running projects that are well-organized, so I've absolutely loved the assumption that fire team members will have well-defined roles and that work and safety plans will be clearly articulated at the start of a project. At the same time, I've been a human in the world long enough to know that sometimes the rules don't serve the cause well. One of my favorite NAFSE community characteristics is a willingness to stare down tensions and try to resolve them. A burn plan isn't helping meet organization goals? Let's propose some changes and then get peer feedback on them. Typical methods aren't getting a target audience what they need to make great decisions? Let's come up with a brand new way to connect with that audience. I am indescribably proud of the number of projects I contributed to that stayed within strict logistical and political boundaries but had tangible impacts on how people think and act in the Northeast.

While I'm moving on from NAFSE, I'll still be in the Northeast doing science communication (and you can always find me here). I'm just shifting away from an organization-based role and toward project-based positions. In other words, I'm becoming more freelancer-y.

You can stay in touch with NAFSE the same way you always have- the team already has support in place to keep active projects moving forward.

I suspect I will cross paths with many of you in the future. I would certainly be honored and delighted to work with you again if you find yourself wishing for a storytelling or communications partner.

Thank you for welcoming me into your world for a while.


A note from the NAFSE leadership team:

We are deeply grateful to Virginia for being part of our team for the past few years. Her talents and contributions to fire science information exchange were especially important when we were all forced to reimagine our community connections while socially distanced. Virginia's creativity, glowingly positive attitude, and willingness to dive into any challenge helped NAFSE level-up our services. We greatly miss Virginia and will think of her fondly as she returns to her roots in marine biology, ships her revolutionary skills to Antarctica, and gallivants with penguins instead of firefighters.

Moving forward, we as a leadership team have decided to use this moment to take a step back and reevaluate our roles and capabilities in balance with emerging needs of fire scientists and managers in the North Atlantic. We have all grown, and the NAFSE community has accomplished much since our grassroots days. It is important to all of us that we set NAFSE up for success for the next chapter of our work. Stay tuned, and thank you for being part of our community!


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