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Alabama A&M FireDawgs leading the way in forest firefighting

The Alabama A&M FireDawgs are a student-led forest firefighting team, paving the way for other HBCUs to partner with the U.S. Forest Service.

HAZEL GREEN, Ala. — Alabama A&M University students within the FireDawgs program are getting hands-on wildland firefighting training at the Winfred Thomas Agricultural Research Station.

Matheu Woodall, a junior at AAMU and a member of the FireDawgs, says, "I've always loved nature...and finally getting into a major that involved that has been really, really fun. So I've been trying to take any opportunity I can to learn more about it or find other ways to work in to it. So I want to really become that jack of all trades." 

The FireDawgs is a student-led forest firefighting team recognized by the U.S. Forest Service and this first of its kind team was formed in 2009.

Bradley Massey, a junior at AAMU and another member of the FireDawgs, explains the program is, "a wildland fire crew receiving training to help local landowners or people in our area with prescribed burning or even just like, natural disaster cleanups and, whatnot…."

Massey explains today's lesson, for the upper-classmen, is all about prescribed burns, "we're going to start little spot fires and utilize our water hose to suppress those fires."

Jeremy Whigham, Projects Forester and FireDawgs Chief at AAMU shares, "I'm a big believer in prescribed fire, good fire, as it were. A lot of our plants and animals in the southeast, they've evolved with fire. They need fire."

Whigham provides expert knowledge all while supporting his students. 

"We offer the safe environment so they'll be more prepared when they head out to fight wildfires," Whigham said.

After the program, these students will receive a wildland firefighting certification.

And this team's success has sparked the U.S. Forest service to partner with other HBCUs.

"The fire consortium is funded by a generous grant from the forest service. It's region eight fire and aviation unit out of atlanta, and they recognize that alabama a&m, as well as several other hbcu's, are really the pipeline for the diversity to the forest service," Whigham said.

"If you love the forest, if you really want to get out there in the forest, boots on the ground, I think it's a program that everybody should give a try," Woodall said.

"For all the high school seniors, come to Alabama A&M. I mean, we get boots on the ground, we get training. It's real fun and we have a good time." 

You'll definitely get your boots on the ground with this program. 

Alabama A&M students who are interested in joining the program are encouraged to reach out to FireDawgs Chief, Jeremy Whigham, at 256-372-4220 or email jeremy.whigham@aamu.edu.

AAMU also hosts an apprenticeship program during the summer for graduating high school seniors who can learn about the field of forestry and decide if they want to pursue a degree in forestry at AAMU.

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