The Wetfoot Blog

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mark's Leadership Actvities that Use Fire




When I started in this business, my “challenge course,” was a bag of balls, mouse traps, a rope and a bow drill friction fire kit. I got a lot of mileage out of that stuff, but the bow drill and all things connected with fire and fire making became some of my best and most effective activities and processing metaphors.

Fire after all, like us, needs to be fed, cared for and can sometimes get out of control. The question: “are you just blowing smoke or are you really making a fire?” became a key phrase that framed many a late night discussion. Fire, and the many stories about fire from cultures all over the world, became tools that could be used for processing, starting discussions or expanding a campfire experience.

During one phase of my work, I used the Jack London story To Build a Fire as the framework for an entire winter wilderness tripping experience. We read the story around our small, portable wood stoves containing fires we made with friction fire kits and used key lessons from the story to frame our discussions. I know that there are many other programs using fires and fire making as key components of their tool kit and I’m sure you can come up with many more.

So…with that in mind, here are some ideas for ways to use this powerful and tangible tool in your programs:


  • Start a fire at the beginning of a program that is maintained and cared for the duration.

  • Incorporate fire into other initiatives, or create complete activities based around fire and fire making. Examples:
    * Design a sheet that describes one or more ways of building a fire, give the group a match, a friction fire kit or other fire starting method (depending on age and experience), other resources that could include questions, etc. and have them put a fire together. It is harder then it sounds for most groups.
    * Teach a friction or spark based fire method and have the group light a candle. Again, instruction sheets, a number of questions and other resources can be available.
    *Design scavenger hunts or other activities which take groups on a journey that requires completion of tasks and accumulation of resources. The fire can be a final product or a tool to do something else (i.e. make a cup of tea, bake a cake, etc.)

  • Build a BIG BOW DRILL: This is an exciting addition to any program and involves a kit designed for group use. A cedar 2x6, a cedar fence post 3-5 inches in diameter, a top plate of cedar or any harder wood and a bow 8-10 feet long with a good piece of braided nylon rope or retired climbing rope works fine. Use jute twine for tinder and pack the notch tightly with tinder. Search the net for further instructions.

Once you get into this stuff and try it you will come up with ideas of your own. Remember the basics of fire safety and if possible, take a class on outdoor or primitive skills, to build your own personal abilities and tool kit. Have fun!

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