Published in Proceedings of the 2008 Fire Conference on Managing Fire and Fuels in the Remaining Wildlands and Open Spaces of the Southwestern United States., January 1, 2008, pages 1-5. This article is in the public domain. Published by the Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service.
Fire managers are challenged with an ever-increasing array of both responsibilities and critics. As in the past, fire managers must master the elements of fire behavior and ecology using the latest technologies. In addition, today’s managers must be equipped with the skills necessary to understand and liaise with a burgeoning group of vocal stakeholders while also facing the complications of a changing landscape, particularly an increasing wildland-urban interface. These challenges have been embraced in the Fire and Fuels Management program of study at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. There, classes are offered in fire suppression, ecology, and management. Other required courses address the historical role of fire in society and its subsequent effects on current policies, the evolution of fire technologies, and the management of the wildland-urban interface. Throughout their tenure in the program, students are perpetually immersed in an atmosphere in which they must develop innovative and realistic solutions to real-world problems. This “learn by doing” philosophy is fostered by course assignments, a mandatory internship and senior project, and in various research opportunities. This paper discusses the successes and lessons learned at Cal Poly and examines the future of equipping tomorrow’s fire managers.