Stories in Maryland/DC

International Fire Training

TNC fire practitioner Chase McLean shares his experiences attending a wildfire suppression learning exchange in Belize.

Portrait of Chase McLean standing at the edge of a controlled burn in Belize.
Chase McLean Wildfire suppression training, Deep River Forest Reserve, Belize. © Fanny Tricone Photography
Chase McLean Stewardship Field Assistant


TNC fire management has had a long and positive relationship with Belize and the partners that helped to put on this training.

The learning exchange was held on the Deep River Forest Reserve in the Toledo district of Belize, where a close partner of the Sothern Belize Fire Working Group operates a sustainable forestry operation. The Thomas Gomez and Sons’ Saw Mill has been logging this area for generations and uses sustainable forestry methods including prescribed fire and managed wildfires.

Aerial view looking down on five people working along a fire line during a controlled burn. The ground under them is blackened and charred. A wall of thick smoke rises from the curving line of fire.
Fire Learning Aerial view of fire practitioners during a wildfire suppression training, Deep River Forest Reserve, Belize. © Tony Rath Photography

This fire training was held in Belize to rekindle a once strong and active relationship with organizations and partners, some of which TNC helped to form through the Global Fire Initiative in the early 2000’s. Belizean partners for this training included the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) and the Southern Belize Fire Working Group (both of which were formed with help from TNC). They continue to implement principles, knowledge, and techniques of fire management learned from TNC.

A man stands by a unit that has burned itself out. He turns his head to speak into a walkie attached to his backpack.
International Fire Training Maryland/DC's Chase McLean on the fire line during TNC wildfire suppression training, Belize, February 2019. © Fanny Tricone Photography

This pine savanna ecosystem is a fire dependent system similar to the longleaf pine ecosystem found in the southeastern US. The availability of this large amount of space—over 60,000 acres of land—allowed organizers to plan training scenarios where participants could respond to active wildfires and suppress them without risk to people or property. The ecosystem also provided a diversity of fuel types, fuel configurations and fire behavior, which greatly enhanced the training. 

The training was focused on wildfire suppression and not prescribed fire, as the TNC fire exchange trainings are in the US.

This training was “designed to build fire suppression capabilities, evaluate individuals in the tasks and behaviors necessary to suppress a wildfire in initial attack and the conversion-to-wildfire transition of controlled burns.”

Getting training on wildfires is something that is difficult for many TNC fire practitioners. Wildfire incidents in the US are managed by the federal government and we do not typically send crews to fight wildfires.

This means that when TNC folks go out west to fight fire, we are not the first in line for many of the training opportunities offered on these incidents. Many of us have plenty of opportunities to conduct prescribed fires and have very few, if any, wildfires on our preserves. This is especially true for the mid-Atlantic.

Two men are obscured by the smoke of a controlled burn. They apply water to a fire line to stop the spread of the fire.
International Fire Training TNC fire practitioners attend a wildfire suppression training in the Deep River Forest Reserve in the Toledo district of Belize, February 2019. © Fanny Tricone Photography

During this training I was able to reach a professional goal of completing my FFT1 Firefighter Type 1 (aka Squad Boss) qualification task book and, in addition, initiated my Single Resource Boss task book. These new qualifications will allow me to take on more of a leadership role on our prescribed fires and bring some of the skills and knowledge learned from this training to our fire management program in Maryland.

Chase McLean is the stewardship field assistant for Maryland/DC. His efforts involve preserve monitoring and maintenance, prescribed burning, invasive species control, and hydrological and biological monitoring projects.