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New Jersey Fire Camp 2024

The 2024 New Jersey Fire Camp, a joint venture with the New Jersey Forest Fire Service (NJFFS) and the North Atlantic Fire Science Exchange (NAFSE), was held May 19th through the 23rd. The fire camp was the perfect opportunity to provide college/university students and early-career natural resource professionals with developing technical skills through the ecological application of prescribed fire. An incredible group of professionals, which included fire wardens, fire tower observers, forestry personnel, science technicians, wildlife biologists, and professors (Penn State, Arcadia University, and Stockton University), to name just a few, created an engaging and insightful experience for the participants.

Sunday night and Monday morning the participants completed their field day work to become Firefighter Type 2 (FFT2) Crewmember qualified. Activities were led by Tom Gerber and Jeremy Webber, fire wardens with NJFFS, and included fire shelter training, hand tool and hose orientation, and how to use an eastern-style drip torch. The participants also dug a hand line to prepare for Wednesday’s prescribed burn. Most of the field work was done on Tom Gerber’s property, Quoexin Cranberry Farm, which is fondly nicknamed “Small Timbers” for the fire operations and research that take place there. Tom uses prescribed fire and mechanical treatments to protect his cranberry bogs. In the afternoon, the group visited the experimental forests at Stockton University. A walk through the forests, guided by Stockton University Professor Matt Olson, highlighted fire and forest ecology, fire effects, and scientific research taking place on these forests. Back at the base camp, YMCA Camp of the Pines, much discussion took place at the evening campfire, where S’mores made for a sweet end to the day.

On Tuesday, the first stop on a day-long field trip was at the Black Run Preserve, where Tom Gerber led the group on a hike through an area recently affected by a wildfire. The group was able to view a variety of fire effects on the landscape and Tom discussed wildland urban interface and firefighting issues in the area. Professors from Penn State (Jesse Kreye) and Arcadia Universities (Lauren Howard) shared insights on topics such as fuels and soil composition. The next stop was at the Silas Little Experimental Research Station, where Research Ecologist Mike Gallagher explained activities taking place at the station. The participants cycled through three different work areas, which examined new technologies such as fire behavior tools and LiDAR, which has the ability to gather important forest information. The visit to Silas Little concluded with a walk to a carbon flux tower and a discussion from Ken Clark, who explained recent findings from data gathered by the flux tower. The final stop of the day was at the Warren Grove bombing range. The group learned about the challenges of prescribed burning and wildfire suppression efforts in the area, whose landscape featured broom crowberry and pygmy pine. Lastly, a short walk took us to an area where personnel from NJ Audubon and the NJ Natural Lands Trust discussed the challenges of prescribed burning in areas where wildlife habitat and rare plant maintenance are important. Engaging conversation took place once again at the evening campfire regarding the days’ activities while enjoying another round of S’mores.

Several days of dry weather allowed for Wednesday to be the prescribed burn day. The group headed back to NJ fire warden Tom Gerber’s property, where they had completed their FFT2 qualifications the other day. A morning briefing took place with cadre members providing important information to the group before any burning took place. Topics such as objectives, weather, operations, safety, and logistics were discussed. The group was broken into three sections - firing, holding, and science. All participants rotated through each section, which allowed them to use the drip torch to put fire on the ground, practice holding tactics, and ultimately be involved in mop up operations using hose and hand tools. In the science group, LiDAR technology was utilized onsite to learn more about its capabilities, tree cores were made to examine fire history and the age of trees, and discussions related to fuels, fire behavior, and ecology took place during the burn operations. Once mop up was complete a demonstration took place on how fire investigations are conducted. The warm day and successful burning operations meant a celebratory trip to an ice cream stand was necessary. The day was not over yet as after dinner the group took part in a fire tower visit at sunset and some of the participants went on an ecology walk back to the camp. And of course S’mores were waiting for the group at the final campfire. The energy at that final campfire was exciting as participants could not stop talking about the learning that took place at the prescribed burn earlier in the day.

The morning thunderstorms on Thursday resulted in a change in plans and the group headed to Coyle Field to learn about air operations associated with wildfires in New Jersey. After touring several aircraft and hearing how they are utilized in operations the precipitation ended and we were able to exit the hangar and have a final after action review (AAR). During the AAR it became clear how impactful the fire camp had been on the participants and cadre. The hands-on experience opened many eyes to the world of fire, the learning opportunities that took place at site visits led to better understandings, and the communication and connections with other students, professionals, and cadre members were invaluable to creating positive working relationships.

The NAFSE Leadership Team is appreciative of the opportunity to be a part of the 2024 New Jersey Fire Camp. To work alongside an incredible cadre that has the same goal in mind, which is to serve students and early professionals in gaining knowledge and experience, is such a rewarding endeavor. Not only will they benefit from it personally, but ultimately moving forward their actions one day will help build safe communities and resilient fire-adapted landscapes.

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