Mitchell Stephen

Bachelor of Science student, Mitchell Stephen, talks about his experience studying Forest Systems, a third-year Forest Science capstone subject.

Towards the end of my degree I completed the Forest Science major capstone subject Forest Systems. I was studying the Civil Systems major and had plans for a career in engineering but after completing this subject I am now a Forest Fire-fighter.

It was the middle of winter and we were learning about fire behaviour on a fire table using real fire. The session was run by a representative from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning who not only educated us about fire behaviour but also about the possible careers in this area. I followed their advice and applied to become a Project Fire Fighter for that summer. I was successful and that summer headed out to Cann River in eastern Victoria for my first fire fighting adventure.

That summer was spent fighting a number of small forest fires and undertaking planned burns for the next fire season.  The fire table activity really came to life here and helped me appreciate and understand the power of fire and the reasoning behind the strategies that we were using. The camaraderie of the job is terrific and it was great to be working in the bush. Most of the time was spent four wheel driving and chain sawing, with lunch often spent at a river, beach or a great lookout.

From there an opportunity came up in the Tiwi Islands over the winter months to work as a firefighter. So with only a handful of wildfires and a few more burns under my belt down in Victoria, I soon found myself taking on the role as second in charge on the ground, sometimes even running some of the smaller, safer burns by myself. Talk about a steep learning curve! This experience was enjoyable, unique, full of learning, memorable, challenging and primarily a bunch of laughs.

Last summer I was back in Cann River and I got the chance to take on more responsibilities and leadership roles in the crew. I am now looking to extend my fire management knowledge through postgraduate study. For those who want experiential learning with industry engagement that leads to a real job and terrific experiences out in the bush, then I suggest that you undertake the Forest Science Major.

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