This is a win-win program for the parks and the interns. Rich Browne, emergency coordinator, Rocky Mountain National Park

2014 interns at the National Mall.
Heidi Dietze, Park Ranger, National Mall and Memorial Parks, Karen Boone, NCR Fire Protection Intern, and Chris Santore, Garden State Fireworks, perform a fireworks inspection at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

NPS / Raúl Castillo.

In summer 2014, 11 college students studying fire protection engineering or administration participated in the Fire Protection Internship Program. Interns assisted the NPS in meeting structural fire management responsibilities, including assessing occupant load and exit capacity, drafting structural fire management plans, and training employees in the use of portable fire extinguishers. All participating supervisors would recommend the internship program to other parks.

“A little help goes a long way.” This is a lesson that 21 NPS sites learned by enlisting the aid of 11 fire protection interns during summer 2014 to help with their structural fire management programs. The results are more than just a list of accomplishments. They demonstrate each park’s commitment and focus on fire prevention.

  • Interns contributed 4,600 work hours to projects as diverse as the park sites themselves (see inset). For example, one intern assessed the occupant load and exit capacity of the Washington Monument and recommended changes to accommodate the large number of visitors the site receives. Interns completed life safety inspections for all of the buildings in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and 100 buildings at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. At Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, the intern produced an operating guide for the use of the park’s fire pump in a fire emergency.
  • Interns drafted structural fire management plans (SFMPs) for eight park sites. According to DO 58: Structural Fire Management, NPS sites are required to address their structural fire response needs and develop an SFMP, which outlines working relationships with local fire departments and clarifies responsibilities for all employees involved in fire prevention and incident response.
  • Four interns trained 208 employees in six park sites on the use of portable fire extinguishers and general structural fire safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to train their staff on the use of portable fire extinguishers. Many structural fires in the NPS have been extinguished using these devices, which reduces damage and loss of structures and artifacts.
  • Interns completed written assessments of historic buildings, noting any fire protection deficiencies and making recommendations for issues needing correction. Some of the remote buildings required a creative approach and a good deal of research to recommend structural fire prevention mitigation. This provided an exceptional on-the-job lesson for these future fire protection engineers, as they were frequently faced with scenarios that were not discussed in the classroom. Maintaining the historic nature of the structures, seasonal use of buildings, limitations of poor water supply or water pressure, and the lack of utilities were new challenges to the interns.

Post-season evaluations of the internship program provided by the interns and their supervisors showed that the need for extra assistance related to structural fire prevention in the parks is great, and the accomplishments were many. The main drawback noted by the Structural Fire program was not being able to hire and place as many interns as initially planned. In their applications, 14 parks offered to partially or fully fund an intern position. With the additional funds, the NPS Structural Fire program had planned to place 19 interns in the field. Unfortunately, the list of qualified candidates fell short of expectations. Planning is already underway for the 2015 season, and ways to improve hiring and recruitment are being discussed.

At the end of the 10 weeks, all supervisors agreed that they would recommend the Fire Protection Internship Program to other parks and supervisors and would welcome the opportunity to host an intern again in the future. The internship was an educational experience for the students, and it proved to be an equally educational experience for many of the park employees who manage structural fire programs.

Rich Browne, who supervised an intern at Rocky Mountain National Park, said it best, “Expand the program as funding allows. This is a win-win program for the parks and the interns.”

The Fire Protection Internship Program is offered by the NPS Structural Fire Program. College students studying fire protection engineering or fire administration are recruited and placed in NPS sites for 10 weeks during the summer season to assist parks in meeting their structural fire management responsibilities. Interns assist with a range of duties that are prioritized by the park.

Parks interested in hosting a fire protection internship can contact Brian Johnson, national fire prevention program manager, at (208) 387-5497.