30 years of training excellence "1994 to 2024"

   It all began in 1994, as a small group of interagency cooperators offered a small 5-day wildfire training event in Black Forest, Colorado. After the tragic events of the South Canyon Fire, interest in wildfire training grew rapidly. By 1996, attendance was over 500 and the official training event was called the Colorado Wildfire Academy.

   The Upper Arkansas Valley Wildfire Foundation became the sponsor of the Academy, and the first Academy Coordinator was hired. In 1997 a second training event was held, the Great Plains Wildfire College. We received interest from other states wanting to start their own training academy; they came to shadow under our team which then resulted in the creation of the New York, Utah, Texas, and Arizona Wildfire Academies. Through our partnership we have provided quality training throughout the United States. With the demand for training and increase in number of students, we continue to move forward to provide a wide variety of classes from wildfire suppression and tactics to advanced command and general staff courses along with incident command system (ICS) courses. As time has evolved so has the role of our incident management teams who now respond to “All Risk” incidents. Due to this shift, we felt it necessary to update our name to the Colorado Wildland Fire & Incident Management Academy in 2007.

   The Academy Incident Management Team consists of the following interagency partners: Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control, Colorado Dept. of Transportation, Colorado Dept. of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish & Wildlife, National Park Service, National Weather Service, as well as many city and county agencies in the local communities that host us. Without these organizations and individuals, this Academy would not be possible. The success of this Academy has been built on partnerships, training, and in-kind support from all participants.

South Canyon Fire

Glenwood Springs, CO 

When it all started

1994: It all began, the first Academy was held at the La Foret Camp in the Black Forest area northeast of Colorado Springs. A total of 5 courses were offered and approximately 90 people from local agencies attended the 3-day event.

1995: The second Academy was centered in the town of Eagle in 1995. Using various locations in town, 10 courses were provided. A total of 225 people attended the 5-day event. Most participants came from Colorado with a few from Kansas and Nebraska.

1996: This Academy brought almost 600 people from 12 states, representing all levels of government and private enterprises. Held in Buena Vista, the event lasted 6 days with 20 courses offered. This Academy marked 5 major changes in operation. They include:
A) Long-term interagency planning meetings, beginning in October.
B) The involvement of a non-agency, private foundation – Upper Arkansas Valley Wildfire Foundation (UAVWF). They would serve as the Academy’s bank account, collecting fees, paying bills etc.
C) The active participation of the local Chamber of Commerce. Mailing community information packets to registrants.
D) The use of a high school for a self-contained fire training incident. This allowed adequate classroom space and facilities, use of cafeteria, camping area, use of showers, and adequate parking.
E) The use of trainees in Safety, Planning, Information and Logistical sections. The incident presented a prime opportunity to train people and complete taskbook requirements.

1997: The Academy was held in Leadville, Colorado June 1 – 8th. It was built on the success of previous efforts. Shortcomings identified after the 1996 Academy were addressed. As a result, almost 700 participants came from 25 states. Twenty-nine courses were offered. A record number of vendors (13) were on site. We hosted a record crowd of 34 people for the VIP/Media Day. The Leadville Chamber of Commerce estimated a local impact of $300,000. In addition, one major change was instituted in the operation of the 1997 Academy. The Upper Arkansas Valley Wildfire Foundation (UAVWF) hired an “Academy Coordinator” to answer questions, process registrations, process payments, track expenses, coordinate all logistical needs, and otherwise serve as a focal point for this event. This position was absolutely critical to the overall success of the event and was a huge workload relief to the existing staff of the Colorado State Forest Service in Salida.

1998: Gunnison, Colorado was the site for the 1998 Academy with approximately 775 participants from 28 states and 14 agencies. We offered 29 courses over 7 days ranging from basic firefighting to advanced Incident Management Team (IMT) courses. Eight classes included field experience. At least 18 vendors were on site. Over 30 dignitaries attended our VIP Day, June 3rd. The lunchtime attraction included a helicopter landing and foam demonstrations. Each evening offered a special program, including the addition of a banquet on Thursday night. Approximately 185 attended the banquet. The highlights of the banquet featured the overhead team as food servers and presentations by our guest speakers Jim Krugman, Type 1 Incident Commander and Mike Thoele, author of Fire Line. As the week ended the Gunnison Chamber of Commerce estimated our local impact to be approximately $300,000. A new addition to the 1998 Academy was the computerized IRSS system at Check-in. This technology really enhanced the smooth operation of check-in. Students were checked-in at a much faster rate than in previous years.

1999: Cortez in the southwest corner of Colorado hosted the 1999 Academy, June 6-12th. Thirty-three classes were offered with many students attending 2 classes on average. Approximately 900 people participated, representing private, city, county, state and federal agencies from 34 states. One-third (32%) of the participants were from city and rural fire departments within Colorado. This number is lower than in previous years, but many participants stayed longer and took more classes. An estimated 3,981 hours of classroom training was provided to fire department personnel, which is approximately $38,218.00 of volunteered In-kind service. Only 27 Incident Management Team Trainees participated this year, which was a decline compared to previous years. Some trainees completed their taskbooks, while others made significant progress towards completion. Twenty vendors were on-site selling their goods, sharing their product, and providing supplemental training. June 10th was VIP Day, which allowed vendors to display and operate their products and services. Twelve VIP’s participated in VIP Day including 2 representatives from Congressman McInnis’ Office. As the week ended the local economy impact was estimated to be $350,000. There were a few changes implemented this year. Barcoding was the highlight of Check-in. Each participant received a barcode on their nametag for tracking purposes, which was very useful in collecting daily meal counts. A part-time employee was hired to assist the Academy Coordinator with a variety of pre-academy activities. For the first time, the Finance Section surveyed staff and instructors to calculate in-direct Academy expenses. These estimated costs were used to project agency contributions including salary.

An Early Interview

Video history in the early days with Wendy Fischer

New Century Begins 

2000: This Academy was in the “Heart of the Rockies”, Salida, Colorado and ran 7 days, June 4-10th. Approximately 900 people attended representing private, city, county, state, and federal agencies. They came from 34 states throughout the country and Australia. Approximately, one-third of the participants are from city, county, and rural fire departments. The local economic impact has been estimated to be $462,157. Our guest speaker for the banquet was Ron Dunton, Acting Fire and Aviation Manager for the Bureau of Land Management. FEMA became involved this year, sending folks for classes and as trainees working with our staff. An active website was updated daily featuring Academy events and pictures throughout the week. The first ever Golf Tournament was started to raise money for the CWA Firefighter Benefit Fund. A total of $1,750 was given out in 2000 to firefighters in need.

2001: The 2001 Colorado Wildfire Academy was held for 7 days June 3-10th in Montrose, Colorado. A total of 49 courses were offered from basic to advanced firefighting, as well as staff trainee positions. Almost 1200 people attended representing private, city, county, state, and federal agencies. They came from 39 states throughout the country along with international Students from Canada and Mexico. For the first time, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management) sent personnel to S-130/190 and to perform as trainees in information. Fire department personnel continue to be over 1/3 of the total attendance. The 50/50 matching grant has been vital to the participation of Colorado fire departments. There were 31 trainees working with the Incident Management Team, which is an increase over the last 3 years. A new addition to this Academy was an active website featuring the daily operations of the Academy, including interviews, articles, and pictures. The economic benefit to the community of Montrose was estimated to be $693,819. 

2002: This event was held at Adams State College of Alamosa, Colorado, June 3-9th. This Academy was presented with new challenges due to an early fire season. We started the week with the Iron Mountain Fire and ended with the Hayman and Coal Seam fires. This was a true test of our abilities as an Incident Management Team to provide training and fight wildland fires concurrently. Even though we lost a few staff members and students to the Colorado Wildfires, we still provided quality training to the 900+ students that attended the 44 classes offered. There were approximately 1000 participants including staff and instructors from 34 states as well as 30+ vendors. We had 25 trainees working on their taskbooks, gaining the experience they need to respond to future wildfire incidents. Colorado Fire Departments continue to be the largest participant at 31%. Everyone enjoyed Alamosa’s hospitality, which included a “Free” BBQ and music by the San Luis Mariachi’s at Cole Park. Alamosa experienced an economic impact of about $690,000 while we were there. For the first time, we used private land (Forbes Trinchera) for the S-212 (Wildfire Powersaws) and Fireline Leadership field exercises. S-130/190 students gained valuable insight and experience when their field exercises were relocated to a recent burn area of the Rio Grande Complex. The BEHAVE course was taught at the ICP of the Rio Grande Complex in Monte Vista. We utilized a local wildfire to enhance the learning experience in and out of the classroom. One last highlight of this week was a $10,000 check presented to the CWA from State Farm Insurance. This money would be used to purchase a trailer along with additional equipment needed for training.

2003: For the first time in the history of the CWA, we returned to a previous Academy town. This was largely due to site conflicts we experienced in other towns we were considering. Adams State College was once again host to the CWA, June 2-8th. This facility lends itself to the adult learning atmosphere for classrooms and meals. There were 41 classes with approximately 1000 attendees from 33 states. Colorado Fire Departments made up 34% in attendance. We had 85 instructors and a support staff of 53 including 29 trainees. More than 30 vendors arrived with new products and demonstrations to share with us all. The Mesa Verde Type 3 Helicopter joined us for VIP Day. Later that day we were part of the largest parade to date. We ended the parade at Cole Park for, yet another Alamosa sponsored firefighter BBQ along with music from “Timberline”. Alamosa once again received an economic boost of $675,000. Our week was enriched with a musical/video presentation from the Fiddling Foresters; this unique group brings laughter to your ears and tears to your eyes. Many of the week’s events were captured through photography. Rick Westphal was hired to collect footage to create an Academy DVD. This DVD will be used to promote the Academy to future sponsors and communities. Video is available below.

2004: Is the 10 year anniversary of the Winter Great Plains Wildfire College in Sterling and the Summer Colorado Wildfire Academy held in Carbondale.  The decision to hold the 2004 Colorado Fire Academy in the Roaring Fork Valley was made on an interagency basis and was primarily focused on honoring the fallen firefighters and their families of the South Canyon Fire tragedy. Over 1000 students and staff participated in the week-long session which emphasized the importance of safety. During the week, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department requested assistance from the Academy to mitigate a tree hazard on the Roaring Fork River. Since the river was free flowing after consecutive years of drought, many tourists and river enthusiast were engaged in white-water recreation, The Team managing the Academy met with the local emergency management expertise and we devised a Type III organization from local, regional and national cooperators to mitigate the hazard. We assigned one of our Operations Chief’s and Safety Officer’s to the incident and coordinated planning and operational efforts. Concurrently, a video team assigned to the Academy captured the initial strategy meeting, development of an incident action plan, and the removal operation. Utilizing Garfield Search and Rescue zodiac boat, swift water swimmers and our assigned Operations Section Chief, the hazard was diligently removed from the river. Our ability to merge the local and Academy expertise to manage an incident within an incident proves the Academy not only provides quality classroom instruction but contributes positively to the communities we visit. 

2005: The Colorado Wildfire Academy was held in Montrose June 6th through June 12th. Returning to the Uncompahgre Plateau is a pleasure for the Academy. This is an area steeped in Native American and western culture, in which, fire plays a major role and has had an impact on the landscape. An active wildland fire program and the Montrose Interagency Dispatch Center make this a great location to support the activities and field exercises conducted during the week. The focus of the Academy remains constant with the emphasis on quality instruction and safety. The courses presented meet the National Wildfire Coordinating Group standards.

2006: The Summer Colorado Wildfire Academy was held in Cortez and was the second time the academy was in Southwest Colorado and the 4 corners. almost 1,000 firefighters will passed through the Academy. Classes were held at Montezuma-Cortez High School throughout the week. Courses begin with basic wildland firefighting instruction all the way to all-hazard and wildland fire advanced incident management. Classes such as portable pump operation, structure protection, maps and compass, division supervisor and air operations are on the schedule. “We are very pleased with the turnout of students for this Academy. This training will be put to good use this season. Our training emphasizes safety of our firefighters so that everyone goes home at the end of the deployment,” stated Deputy Incident Commander Don Angell. 

Constantly Changing Training Challenges

2007: was a big year for the Academy. A Birth of a new name, mission and grant funding. Back in 1994, a group of emergency responders from varied response disciplines, founded the Colorado Wildfire Academy (CWA) and Great Plains Wildfire College (GPWC) realizing the need to provide National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG), Incident Command System (ICS), and other quality emergency management courses. Since this inception these colleges and academies have delivered training to over 15,000 students. After the events of September 11th, 2001, the board has constantly modified the curriculum to meet the ever changing requirements of fire, emergency medical, law enforcement, and other emergency management agencies and personnel. The value of incident management training has been reinforced numerous times with unprecedented fire seasons, the Columbia Shuttle Recovery and Hurricane’s Ivan, Katrina and Rita respectively began the birth and development of All Hazards. To address the future training needs of emergency management, the board voted to adopt a single moniker to express our long-term commitment to a diverse curriculum of quality training. The Colorado Wildland Fire and Incident Management Academy (CWFIMA) became the over–all umbrella of the CWA and GPWC. With help from the City of Sterling Fire Department and the State of Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The CWFIMA was awarded a one time grant of $150,000 to purchase equipment and trailers along with $25,000 for administrative support for 5 years. Due to dwindling support dollars from DOI, USFS and the federal government , the grant was needed to help fund the future of the not for profit academy. 

2008: Was the last year the GPWC (now CWFIMA) was held at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling. The academy had outgrown the lodging compacity for the city. With the highest number of classes at 33 and 800 students attending the academy was the largest to date for a winter academy. The Summer academy was held for its 2nd time in Gunnison at Western State College. 2008 was a very sad year for the Academy, its staff and the nation having lost its long time member and National Incident Commander Marc Mullenix to suicide. 

2009: Over the years our academy continued to grow and evolve into an annual international training event. In order to meet the increased needs of Emergency Response Personnel and the need for more local training the winter academy moved to Aims Community College in Greeley, in trying to keep the academy close to the great plain. The move allowed more room for students and the ability to offer more classes. Since the early days one of the continuing goals is keeping up with the constant evolution of change that the Emergency Services require. Change is inevitable and 2009 brought much transition to the Academy. The summer academy was held in Montrose for its 3rd time with 32 classes and over 648 people attending 

2010: Every year the academy continues to adapt, The winter academy was back at Aims Community College and was introducing new FEMA advanced Professional Series courses for emergency management personnel (All Hazards) The summer academy was held in Canon City for the first time. 

2011: With the ever evolving growing needs for more space, the winter academy moved to Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs. Since changing the mission to include Incident Management Training and adding the FEMA ICS Course Specific Curriculum to better meet our goals in adapting to the evolution of change in the Emergency Services industry and bringing ICS classes to the local Military agencies. The winter academy was the largest to date with 46 classes and 876 students. The summer academy was held in Frisco at Summit Middle School bringing training back into the mountain communities. 

2012: The winter academy was back at Aims Community college in Greeley with a possible plan to rotate the winter session between Colorado Springs and Greeley. The summer academy was in back in Alamosa for its 4th time. The Alamosa community offered a free ride aboard the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad for all firefighters and staff to the Fir Amphitheater for live entertainment and a BBQ dinner. 

2013: With the academy constantly growing and providing a continuing list the classes for both All Hazard and NWCG. The winter academy selected University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) for its first time with 39 classes and its highest student numbers at 856. UCCS offered classroom space including use of its smart rooms with advanced technology that was needed as classes need more technology. The summer academy was back in the Montrose community at the Olathe High School 15 minutes north of Montrose.  

The Legacy Continues, and then COVID

2014: is the 20 year mark for the academy. From a small-town class in the Black Forest with less than 100 participants in 1994 to the official recognition of the Colorado Wildfire Academy in 1996, Buena Vista to the introduction of the Great Plains Wildfire College in 1997, Lamar continuing with the transition to the Colorado Wildland Fire & Incident Management Academy (CWFIMA) in 2007. We have gone many places over the years, networking and striving to provide quality wildland fire training with the addition of All-Hazards training in a diverse and welcoming environment. As wildland fires and other natural events continue to occur, CWFIMA will be here to provide experienced instructors with quality classroom and field instruction that exceeds the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) and All-Hazards standards. Winter Academy was held at UCCS in Colorado Springs, followed by the summer academy in Glenwood Springs at Coal Ridge Highschool. 

After being at UCCS for the last few years Colorado Springs became Permanent home for the winter  academy. The City of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Fire Department, UCCS, the local Military agencies and many others helped make the are home. Lodging, Food and the capacity to handle the larger student numbers all played a role. The summer academy will continue to rotate through other communities around the state with its academy being held since its last time in 2000 back in the community of Salida home to the Upper Arkansas Valley Wildfire Foundation. 

2016: UCCS continues to be a great home for the winter academy having 44 classes and 868 students. yet a record number. If you consider the actual number of Instructors, Staff, Vendors. The winter academy handles over 1000 personnel. The summer academy was held in Gunnison at the Gunnison High School. A federally contracted caterer was brought in to help provide service. 

2017:  The 20th winter academy continues its partnership at UCCS with 41 classes and 873 students. Summer was back in Alamosa at Adams State University. Approximately 418 attended from 16 states. The CWFIMA estimated an economic impact of $500.000 to the local Alamosa community. 

2018: The winter academy runs seven days and brings up to 1,000 students, staff and Instructors to Colorado Springs at UCCS. We estimate an economic impact of $900.000 in 2018. 7 academies have been held to date in Colorado Springs bringing a total economic impact of around 6.5 million to the local area. The summer academy was back in Salida Colorado.

2019: Was the 25th year anniversary of the CWFIMA. The academy honored many that had supported the academy over its 25 years. The academy at UCCS had 965 students from 38 states attending. 

2020: This year was the 9th year of the academy being at UCCS. 941 classes from 24 states and 38% from Colorado Fire Departments, 29% Federal, 23% County and City Agencies, 10% Private organizations. After the successful completion of the winter academy COVID was making its world debut having changed the way we do things in a social and in-person training environment. For the first time in the history of the academy, the 2020 summer academy was canceled at Coal Ridge High School. 

2021: COVID changed everything about how the academy did its business, but we adapted. 2021 was an ever changing rotation of dealing with COVID instructions and information. The academy was not able to us UCCS for its winter session due to social distancing and lock downs still being in place at schools and education facilities. The academy was able to schedule 19 in person classes at the Colorado Springs Marriott In February and March with 6 classes being virtual. The summer academy was held at Coal Ridge High School near Glenwood Springs with 16 classes and 269 students attending but reducing its classroom days from 7 to 5. 

2022: Coming out of the COVID lockdowns and closures. The academy was able to start turning things back to normal. Being back at UCCS in Jan and using the Marriott for some advanced classes. 45 classes were held with  769 students attending. The summer academy was back in Salida for 5 days with 20 classes and 311 students. 

2023: The winter academy was hosted this year at the Colorado College closer to downtown Colorado Springs. It was a change in venue as we tried another location. Colorado College offered some differences that we adjusted to and was met with good reviews. 6 days of classes were held in January at Colorado College and 5 at the Marriott totaling 40 classes and 771 students. The summer academy was back in Alamosa for 5 days. 

2024: The 30 year anniversary of the Colorado Wildland Fire & Incident Management Academy. The winter academy was back at UCCS for another successful event and back to 7 days and another 5 days of classes at the Marriott in February. 53 classes held being the highest number of classes ever held with 910 Students. 

2004 10th Anniversary Video

1998 Video File

This video was snippets used for the 25 year anniversary in 2019, 

2000 Video File 

From the VHS archive of the Academy

25 Year Anniversary photo show

25 Year in Memory of those we lost 

Those who were a part of the academy that we had lost up to 2019

2023 Summer CWFIMA Video

By Adams State University

Photos, Videos and Documents can be found in the Galleries - Click Here