Innovative training includes women in integrated fire management

Project seeks to promote gender and cultural diversity, including Indigenous People

Two remote integrated fire management training programs were held in January, aimed exclusively towards women. The courses included the value of sharing experiences, acknowledging different perspectives, and jointly building solutions for common problems. A total of 52 women took part in this innovative initiative, including Indigenous people living in the Amazon.

The courses are part of FIRE, the Regional Fire Program for South America, created in 2020 in response to an increase in wildfires. It is implemented by the United States Forest Service (USFS) with support from USAID, in four countries: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. It brings together partners in the region, enabling US fire brigades to share their experience and knowledge with experts from other countries. 

For Vanessa Xerente, a member of the Xerente ethnic group and a team leader in her community fire brigade, training opens up a range of opportunities, which combined with the experience of their elders will benefit the communities.

“These courses are very enriching,

as they expand our knowledge.

The word [to describe it] is gratitude", said.

And completed: "For sure, applying what we learn in practice will be very exciting and of great importance to our people. We will add what we have learned during the program to what we already knew from the experience of our elders, enriching our work.”

The program works together with several official and private entities, universities and Indigenous communities to improve the region's technical and human resources, especially in the Amazon. In Brazil, the partners include the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) and the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA).

“The FIRE program helped us establish a strategy to offer a comprehensive fire training methodology shared with countries in South America. As we translate, review, and adapt our courses, we interact with leading institutional professionals in each country,” says Jayleen Vera, coordinator of the US Forest Service's Brazil program.

The courses delivered were “S-190 — Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior”, January 12 - 14; and “FI-110 — Wildland Fire Observations and Origin Scene Protection for First Responders”, on January 19 - 20. Firefighters arrive at the scene and perform actions such as understanding the basic behavior of fires and supporting investigations, in addition to analyzing fire pattern indicators and their various causes.

To mark International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8, a regional event focused on women's participation in integrated fire management is planned.

“We still work in sexist environments, but women are constantly proving that they can handle all activities. I think it is important to have courses aimed only at them so that we can have a process of recognizing their competence and availability to carry out this type of work. When there is recognition, people start to look at women differently. If they are being invited to participate in a training program, that is taken into account,” says Cláudia Sacramento, environmental analyst and firefighter trainer at ICMBio.

For Sacramento, women's ability to articulate, talk about, and embrace sensitive issues is crucial in the process of conserving the forest and biodiversity. “Women have a great power to change their environment. So, providing them with technical education and training will help to strengthen their work,” she adds.

Impacts — Historically, the Legal Amazon, which occupies about 59% of the Brazilian territory, is the biome that registers the most fires per year, followed by the Cerrado. In 2021 alone, there were 75,090 fires in the Amazon region, according to data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). 

Brazil is the country with the highest incidence of forest fires in South America. From 2014 to 2019, women represented, on average, 4% of the fire brigade members of the National Center for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, known as Prevfogo. Prevfogo is IBAMA's specialized center for forest fire education, research, monitoring, control, prevention, and fighting. 

Women are less present in managerial and leadership positions, restraining the institutions'  strategies in the integrated management of fire. They have reduced participation in courses and training, limiting their opportunities for professional growth and leadership training. 

“The courses delivered by and for women reinforced that we are in large numbers and motivated to contribute to preventing and fighting forest fires. Our goals are shared by all people who work with fire management: we want to conserve our forests and ensure people's well-being,” says Ana Luiza Violato Espada, a gender and governance expert at the US Forest Service.

Gender inclusion and cultural diversity in the composition of fire brigades incorporate innovative initiatives to prevent and fight forest fires and promote the sustainable use of natural resources, resulting in more alternatives for climate change mitigation and adaptation. 

Background — At the end of last year, the USFS delivered, for the first time in Brazil, the same courses online (S-190 and FI-110) to 45 IBAMA and ICMBio staff. 

“These early participants provided vital contributions to the courses, and they are now multipliers, helping to make this training accessible to other organizations, volunteers, and women. We believe that, as more people learn and talk about the topic, we can develop cross-agency and cross-cultural capabilities to address the growing and unprecedented challenges of integrated fire management.

The courses were translated and adapted from the course catalog of the National Forest Fire Coordination Group, a leader in the United States in facilitating joint wildfire operations among federal, state, local, Indigenous, and community partners.