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Interest in wildfire management program spreads like, well…

Feb2Tim Foley’s master’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting has come in handy surprisingly often throughout his long career fighting wildfire. “In wildland fire, our number-one goal is always going to be firefighter safety. The accountant in me comes out: 20 firefighters go in, 20 firefighters come out. We want the columns to balance,” he said.

Foley has more than 30 years of firefighting experience under his belt. A retired fire management officer, he’s also served on federal and state hotshot crews and as a fire behavior analyst. Now he’s been brought on board to direct and revitalize the wildland fire management program at Western Colorado Community College (WCCC). The program’s courses, which start March 17 on the Bishop Campus, will primarily focus on safely operating in a highly dynamic, dangerous environment.

“We also spend a lot of time talking about fire behavior because we want firefighters to be … proactive rather than reactive. A lot of it is technical — how to program radios, the proper radio use protocols, how to put a fire out. That’s important, obviously, but fire safety is going to be woven in,” Foley said. “There are some members of the public who mistakenly believe we would be willing to risk our lives to protect their house, and that’s not the way we operate.”

This semester’s two classes will be held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at times that won’t conflict with other courses. Evening classes also enable Foley to call on industry professionals who will serve as guest lecturers.

Graduates of the program will earn an associate’s of applied science in wildland fire management, but under Foley’s guidance, the program curriculum is being retooled to better facilitate a transition to a bachelor’s program in environmental science or public administration. “Those are the two programs that I think would be the most compatible with what we’re offering. I think it’s really beneficial. An associate’s degree is good, but a bachelor’s degree is better and … we can push them into a four-year program. That’s a good place to be,” said Foley.

The program slots are filling up, and will continue to do so as word gets out. “I think the interest is there,” Foley said. “The weird thing about these types of programs is that if you have a really bad year, the following winter interest goes up … There’s a lot of pent-up interest. We just have to tap into it.” •

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Dana Nunn, Director of Media Relations

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