Learning wildfire suppression at CCC

Date: Thursday, 13th May 2021

Coconino Community College student Cascade Parcell, a former wildland firefighter, refreshes her skills with a saw during a recent course offered at the college.



FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Cascade Parcell and her instructor Brad Williams study the ponderosa pine. They’re looking for “lean” – the direction the tree wants to fall.


“I’m going to use wedges on this one,” Parcell says, picking up a chainsaw.


She fires up the chainsaw, kneels at the base and starts cutting while Williams carefully watches.


Parcell was one of a handful of students taking the Wildland Fire Chainsaws course in April at Coconino Community College. The course is part of a CCC Wildland Fire Suppression Certificate program.


“The certificate is designed to assist people interested in wildland firefighting to obtain employment in that field,” said Marc Goldberg, CCC’s Fire Science Coordinator. “The curriculum provides basic entry-level knowledge, skills and abilities to function as a wildland firefighter.”


Goldberg added that all local federal, district and municipal fire departments stress the importance of the entry-level skill, knowledge and abilities for their applicants.


“By offering this class before an employee is hired, the agency can take them and start their intensive field practice without having to have them in the classroom first,” Goldberg said. “We partner to provide this basic field instruction before the agency starts more intensive training.”


Williams is an assistant fire captain for the U.S. Forest Service on the Flagstaff Ranger District who also teaches at CCC. He, Parcell and the other student spent the day in the forest near Picture Canyon doing “hazardous fuels reduction” on behalf of the city of Flagstaff. The area was scheduled to be thinned to reduce the risk of dangerous wildfire.


“We’re thinning ponderosa pine 9 inches DBH and under,” Williams said, adding that DBH stands for Diameter at Breast Height.


The five-day, 40-hour, course includes classroom instruction as well as “in-the-field experience,” Williams said, adding that the students learn not only how to safely operate and maintain the chainsaws, but how to manipulate and control the fall of a tree into a desired spot.


Parcell made quick work of felling her tree in exactly the spot that she and Williams determined it would fall. She began by taking a chunk out of the side of the tree in the direction it was intended to fall. On the other side, she cut deeply toward the notch she’d made, and, after getting most of the way through, she then hammered in wedges until gravity could take over and the tree could fall. After that, she and another student cut up the tree into smaller pieces to be thrown into a pile and burned at a later date.


“I need credits for my Fire Science degree, and I wanted a refresher with saws,” Parcell said, smiling. “This is a good every-day skill, too, because I have to get firewood.”


Parcell spent four years as a wildland firefighter, but now she wants to move on and get hired by a municipal fire department. She already has a certificate as a Certified Nursing Assistant and Emergency Medical Technician. She currently works as an EMT for Guardian Medical Transport in Flagstaff.


“My parents were both firefighters,” she said. “That’s actually how they met, and they told me it was a good way to make money in between college. I actually fell in love with it.”


She added that wildland firefighting can be hard on the body, so she wants to combine her medical knowledge with her love of firefighting. She comes from a large family, all dedicated to serving their communities.


“I love making the community better,” she said.


For more information about CCC’s Fire Science programs, degrees and certificates, visit  https://www.coconino.edu/paths/public-safety





All Dates

  • Thursday, 13th May 2021