Postprint version. Published in Journal of Forestry, Volume 107, Issue 7, October 1, 2009, pages 339-345.
Copyright © 2009 Society of American Foresters. The definitive version is available at http://saf.publisher.ingentaconnect.com/content/saf/jof/2009/00000107/00000007/art00005.
Over the last 20 years, the duties of US fire professionals have become more complex and risk laden because of fuel load accumulation, climate change, and the increasing wildland-urban interface. Incorporation of fire use and ecological principles into fire management policies has further expanded the range of expertise and knowledge required of fire professionals. The educational and training systems that produce these professionals, however, have been slow to organize an updated and coordinated approach to preparing future practitioners. Consequently, aspiring fire professionals face numerous challenges related to scheduling conflicts, limited higher education programs in fire science, lack of coordination between fire training and higher education entities, and the overall difficulty of obtaining education and training without sacrificing experience. Here, we address these and other challenges with potential solutions and outline the first steps toward their implementation. We organize the necessary aspects of professional fire preparation into a representative model: a fire professional development triangle comprised of education, training, and experience. For each of these aspects, we suggest changes that can be made by employers, educators, and nongovernmental organizations to provide a more streamlined mechanism for preparing the next generation of wildland fire professionals in the United States.