Alumni spotlight: Joe Ferguson ’77 spends a career training wildland firefighters
November 14, 2022
After reading CNRE’s summer 2022 newsmagazine story, “Virginia Tech alumni fuel a burning desire to fight wildfires,” alumnus Joe Ferguson ’77 reached out to share his own experiences as a veteran wildland firefighter and instructor.
Ferguson’s contributions to wildfire management are longstanding. In 1997, while working as a fire staff officer in the National Forests of Florida, he founded the National Interagency Prescribed Fire Training Center (NIPFTC) to offer comprehensive experiential training programs for wildfire management.
This year, NIFPTC is celebrating its 25th year of operation. To date, the center has trained more than 3,250 students from 50 states and 20 countries, and conducted prescribed burns of over 1.25 million acres.
Ferguson says Virginia Tech is where he first “fell in love” with prescribed fire.
“In the 1970s, the Department of Forestry sponsored fire crews that were made available to the U.S. Forest Service and Virginia Division of Forestry for wildfire suppression,” he said. “I’m positive that opportunity and going on several fires throughout the south during my time at Virginia Tech changed my career trajectory. Dr. Dick Vasey and forestry graduate Steve Pedigo ’72 were responsible for getting the fire crew idea approved and operational. I know several forestry graduates like myself that trace their firefighting careers back to the Virginia Tech crews, and we all owe our gratitude to these two gentlemen.”
Ferguson retired from the U.S. Forest Service in 2008, after serving 32 years in roles including incident commander of the Atlanta-based National Incident Management Team, assistant director of fire and aviation for the U.S. Forest Service’s southern region, fire staff officer for the National Forests in Florida, and founding director of NIPFTC.
Today, he owns Southeastern Fire Associates, LLC, where he provides consulting services and training in wildland fire, emergency management, and prescribed fires. He continues to work with NIPFTC and co-leads an Agency Administrator Workshop twice a year. In this workshop, he gets to work alongside fellow Virginia Tech alumna Deb Flowers ’00. Flowers has also made key contributions to NIPFTC and prescribed fire nationally by starting and co-leading a Fire Leadership for Women training program.
Ferguson stays highly engaged with his alma mater. In September, he joined two of Assistant Professor Adam Coates’ wildland fire management classes and shared the critical importance and personal fulfillment of a career in wildfire management and prevention.