Teacher workshop highlights fire education
08.24.2022

Arriving early at the fire station in Rogue River to set up for the FireBright Teacher Workshop, we were surprised (and a little nervous) to find the room occupied by personnel in white coats administering to a large number of people lying on beds. We appreciated the generosity of the Rogue River Fire Department letting us use the room, so we were happy to wait until the Red Cross blood drive ended to set up for our workshop.  

After that, things went as planned and together with the Oregon Natural Resources Education Program, the Oregon State University Extension Service, Oregon Department of Forestry and the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative, OFRI’s K-12 education program hosted a successful summer teacher workshop on fire this past June.

Sixteen educators from high schools and community colleges around the state participated and took advantage of the opportunity to learn about wildfire topics that included, ecology, causes of wildfire, the era of “megafires,” and natural resource careers.  They toured the Garner Complex, site of the 2018 wildfire, and were taken to OSU’s Collins Demonstration Forest near Gold Hill. While at the two sites, they learned about the tools of the firefighting trade, fire incident command systems, and forest resiliency to fire through management and mitigation strategies. The intent of the tour was to show the participants how to incorporate and apply knowledge of wildfire related to Oregon forests, forest practices and community resources into their classroom curriculum.

Teachers touring a forest

The tour served as professional development for the teachers to learn about a high school curriculum called FireBright. Created by OSU Extension, the Oregon Department of Forestry, Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative and Keep Oregon Green, the aim of the curriculum is to give students an understanding of fire in our forests and how it impacts communities. It also has a strong career and community engagement element, and gives students the understanding of the skills that are needed if they choose to pursue a wildfire-related career.

The curriculum consists of five modules or units. Among the topics the modules cover are an overview of contemporary wildfire issues, including the threat of megafires (extreme fires that devastate large areas) and how they impact forest health and communities. Another module helps students understand the ecological and historical basis for the current challenge of addressing the longer, more intense fire seasons the West is experiencing due to climate change and other factors. This includes highlighting the causes of wildfire and mitigation strategies. 

Teachers doing an experiment

Lastly, the curriculum looks at wildfire from the perspective of the community and provides students with the knowledge and tools to help their community prepare for wildfire. It also examines natural resource and wildland firefighting career pathways.

OFRI has been a partner throughout the process, designing and implanting phases of this curriculum, and there is a plan to offer a similar teacher workshop in conjunction with the FireBright modules in eastern Oregon next summer. 

One of the reasons we’ve supported the curriculum and hosted this workshop is because, even though it was developed for southern Oregon, it is applicable to other areas of the state. Not only is it well written and aligned with educational standards, but the topics it covers, such as megafires and their impact on forest health, community wildfire preparedness and mitigation strategies, and the impacts of longer fire seasons, are not unique to southern Oregon unfortunately. Students from across Oregon would find value in its lessons too.

Norie Dimeo-Ediger
Director of K-12 Education Programs

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