Job Corps students vital to firefighting efforts in WNC and the nation


Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

Job Corps students in 2022 assisted the USDA Forest Service with more than 200,000 hours of fire suppression training and projects, according to a Job Corps spokesperson. The program has enabled students to be directly involved in the preservation of the nation’s forests and grasslands.

Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers offer training programs in forestry conservation and wildland firefighting, advanced wildland fire management, and advanced emergency dispatch.  

Three centers in North Carolina helped with fire suppression efforts in 2022: Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) (in Franklin), Oconaluftee (in Cherokee) and Schenck (in Pisgah Forest). The campuses combined for a total of 15,766.25 hours, with Schenck logging 5,520 hours, Lyndon B. Johnson logging 5,228.75 hours, and Oconaluftee logging 5,017.5 hours. 

Job Corps forestry conservation and wildlife firefighting programs serve as training ground for positions in the USDA and Forest Service. 

The motto of the Forest Service is “Caring for the Land and Serving People,” explained Keith Bowers, liaison specialist at the LBJ site in Franklin. 

“At LBJ Job Corps Center, we believe that we incorporate that mission into everything that we do,” said Bowers. “Whether it is through training disadvantaged youth in our vocational trades, providing education support in our Academic Department, through our community service projects, or our direct ties with the Forest Service as a whole. LBJ delivers on our goal to be a beacon of service to our constituents. We empower our students’ dreams by providing a connection with nature. We show students the value of giving back through service. And we’re always looking for opportunities to partner to help with work in our local communities and provide opportunities for our students.”

Bowers added, “We’ve seen the historic challenges being faced by our nation’s forests and grasslands, and so we continue to expand our program offerings with the goal of becoming the premier vocational training program for Forest Service careers. For example, each center already has a connection to the wildland fire program. LBJ has ramped up our Fire Fighting program and offered all students the opportunity to complete coursework in order to earn their Fire Fighter Type 2 Certification. Students can train with Forest Service wildland firefighters to help with fire and other natural disasters and can even earn fire credentials to gain paid work experience while in Forest Service Job Corps.”

In fact, the LBJ Job Corps Center regularly works directly with the Nantahala Ranger District on prescribed burns and local wildland fire suppression as well as provides support through different maintenance activities. 

“Over the last few months our students have assisted the Nantahala National Forest in the burning of 8,061 acres with a total of 495 hours,” said Bowers.

LBJ Job Corps Center Director Todd Doolittle emphasized the advantages of the collaboration. 

“The vision for our students and staff is to gain experience and opportunities involving our natural resource management plan,” said Doolittle. “We give our staff and students the ability to network throughout the Forest Service agency as a whole to encourage employee development and to meet the staff shortages across the agency. Students are able to understand aspects of land management through exposure to wildland firefighting, recreation management, timber, and administrative roles. We are here to serve our nation’s fire program and our agency’s goals.”

Kent Gibson, vocational manager at LBJ Job Corps Center, stated, “I have been involved in Forest Service Fire Fighting activities for 25 years. I began as a fire fighter, moving up to crew boss taking 20 person crews of LBJ students from 1993-2007 on wildland forest fires across the country. LBJ and its staff have held a long commitment to providing firefighting support both in our community and to our nation. We try our best to get our students hired into Forest Service fire fighting positions.” 

Founded in 1964, Job Corps is the nation’s largest job training and education program for students from 16 to 24 years of age. The LBJ campus is located on Wayah Road, just off US 64W. It, along with other campuses nationwide, provides students with vocational training and academic experiences to increase opportunities towards gainful employment and career pathways. Job Corps centers include dormitories and a campus environment similar to small colleges, yet Job Corps provides programs and services to students free of charge.

For more information, visit or call 877-763-0580.

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