In "Partner Perspectives" we get to know the diverse people, roles, and views of wildfire management in the Pacific. Jack Minassian kindly spent some time with us discussing his experience in creating useful maps for wildfire management.
Name: Jack Minassian
Role: Assistant Professor of Fire Science Instruction
Organization: Hawaii Community College
Pacific Fire Exchange (PFX): What sparked your interest in wildfire?
Jack (JM): I liked working outdoors, so I figured I’d work outdoors and someone would pay me. I started off with the US Forest Service then ended up with the National Park Service. I fought my first wildland fire when I was 18 years old. You know, when you’re that age, you like all the action. That’s what firefighting is all about - just getting out there. As I fought more fires, I realized there was more to it than just putting fires out and there was more to learn - how fire ecology works.
PFX: Describe your role as a Fire Science Instructor.
JM: The fire science program covers the whole range of the fire profession - structure, wildland fires, wildland-urban interface, haz mat. I try to expose my students to all these variations to see what sparks their interest. A lot of my students just think about structure fire when they enter the fire science program. Some say they never even realized there was a wildland fire suppression component to fire science. I give them a basic introduction to the fire science world and all the variations of it so that when they graduate, they have options. Some may want to pursue something with the County fire department, some may want to pursue options with the federal agencies.
PFX: What do you think resonates most with students?
JM: Safety. Our top goal is that our students know how to fight fire and how to do it in a safe manner. Also, there is no “book answer” on how to a fight fire. I teach my students to gather information - what we call “size up” a situation - then analyze that information and come up with a plan. Then they have to be able to evaluate whether that action is effective or not. And if it is - fine, if not, they have to go back, reanalyze, and come up with a different plan.
PFX: Would you say most students go into suppression instead of fire ecology?
JM: Well, before you start doing the ecology, you have to understand how to suppress the fire. It’s hard to understand the ecology until you’ve actually been out there. After you’ve been on several fires, you start being able to predict fire behavior and understanding the various parameters that affect wildland fire behavior - the fuels, fuel types, topography, weather. No two fires are ever the same, and every time you go to a fire, that builds your experience. When you have some knowledge and experience, then you can combine the two.
Most of my students have no experience at all. But I do have a certain amount of in-house professionals - county fire fighters who are coming back to school and getting their degree.
PFX: Share an experience you’ve had in partnering with others to meet a fire management goal.
JM: Before I started teaching, I was the Pacific Fire Management Officer at Volcanoes National Park. When I first came here there was very little interaction between different agencies. I would meet firefighters from different agencies casually and they’d say “What’s going on?” I’d say “We just had this training,” and they’d say “Oh, my people needed that training too!” It wasn’t that we weren’t working together - there was just no coordination and communication.
We eventually developed the Big Island Wildfire Coordinating Group so all the Federal, State, local agencies here on the island could meet, be able to communicate, coordinate, and work together. On this island we have limited resources, so we all have to help one another. The partnerships are essential.
PFX: Favorite way to spend the weekend?
JM: Relax! If it’s football season, I like to watch football during the weekend. Other than that, I do projects around the house. Actually, I’m into karate and I practice that. Twice a week, I work out. I’ve been doing it for 9 years. They advertised in the local paper. I met and really enjoyed the sensei, and just liked the exercise. That’s one thing I always promote for my students - physical fitness. Firefighting is a lot of stress - both physically and mentally, so I’ve always been an advocate for being physically fit and active.
PFX: Share something most people don’t know about you.
JM: I have a black belt in karate.