In mid-January 2018, Central American service members participated in the first joint training course to fight forest fires. The International Fire Management Course trained 126 service members from the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC, in Spanish), January 15th-26th.
Held under the auspices of the Honduran Armed Forces and coordinated by the Ecosystems and Environment Support Command (C-9, in Spanish), the course took place at the facilities of the Officer Application Academy in Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras. One hundred and twenty Honduran service members and six officers from the Armed Forces of El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic participated in the course.
“This course will allow the armed forces from our country and the region to have personnel specialized in ecosystem protection work,” Honduran Navy Captain José Domingo Meza, public relations director for the Honduran Armed Forces, told Diálogo. “This will also [allow for] improved capacities and skills of those who are already trained in preventing, detecting, organizing, and controlling forest fires in secure conditions.”
Personnel from the Honduran Public Prosecutor's Office joined Honduran military instructors to teach environmental legislation. The theoretical-practical course was divided into six modules and included classes on terminology related to fighting and controlling fires, factors leading to the spread of fires, personnel management, resource utilization, and field practice, among others.
Central America has a forest coverage area of about 20 million hectares, which is at greater risk of wildfire during the dry season from February to May. According to statistics from C-9, in 2017, 853 fires in Honduras alone affected more than 35,000 hectares of forests.
“Fires in the Central American region are complex due to the variety of ecosystems. The wind, temperature, and vegetation are all different in each region of the world,” said Honduran Air Force Captain Ernesto Rivera López, an instructor of the fire management course. “So a forest fire in the [U.S.] state of California is not the same as in La Tigra National Park in Honduras. These are totally different habitats, as is the firefighting.”
The first international course was born out of the need to perfect fighting techniques for forest fires, the characteristics of which CFAC member countries share. Part of the objective includes training Central American service members in a uniform manner to jointly protect and preserve the region's diverse and fragile ecosystems.
According to Capt. Meza, officers participating in the course will be able to “join a regional work system. They will be trained in detection and firefighting team management and providing effective statistics and standard procedures in the region to mobilize work teams in area countries with working knowledge of environmental legislation.”
Origins of the course
The fire management course was based on the international forest fire protection seminar of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Honduran military instructors and officers from the Honduran Fire Department trained with USFS and used what they learned to create a course adapted to Central America.
The 2018 edition of the course was the first to open to CFAC members, which includes El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. Honduras previously offered a similar course to its military officers. It began in 2009 and evolved as instructors gained knowledge.
Role of the armed forces
During the course, participants traveled to Zambrano, a rural town 43 kilometers from Tegucigalpa, which, according to C-9, has the highest number of fires in the Central District—consisting of Tegucigalpa, Comayagüela, and 44 adjoining towns. In Zambrano, participants put their training into practice and carried out fieldwork in which they learned how to make rounds with drip torches, a firefighting tool used to start controlled fires.
Capt. Rivera emphasized the importance of the practical part of the course, which, in addition to firefighting training, allowed students to work together and demonstrate leadership abilities. “As officers, they will command troops. They'll be in charge of soldiers,” he said. “A good leadership base to guide them rests in good methodologies and an appropriate strategy to fight fires.”
Climate change is bound to impact forest fires in the region, which will increase the role of the armed forces in preserving the environment and protecting lives and property under the threat of fire. CFAC's uniform training will help in decision-making, risk evaluation, options, and limitations to benefit the Central American region.
“The course will be very important. Year after year, climate change, the advance of agriculture, livestock herding, and human settlements will increasingly impact our ecosystems,” Capt. Rivera concluded. “Species of animals and plants, soil, and water cannot defend themselves alone, which is why the armed forces are an important institution when it comes to taking care of what’s around us and protecting life.”