Intermediate National Fire
Danger Rating System S-491
This version of Intermediate National Fire Danger Rating System S-491 is a full
revision of the materials first published by the National Wildfire Coordinating
Group in 2004. This revision follows the direction of the Equipment and
Technology Branch, Fire Environment Committee. The innovation, commitment
coordination and assistance of the following people were instrumental in re-
developing this course:
Bureau of Land Management
Salt Lake Field Office
Eastern Great Basin Coordination Center
Great Basin Training Center-NIFC
U.S. Forest Service
National Information Systems Team Support, WO
Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula
State and Private Forestry, WO
Predictive Services Unit, N. California GA Coordination Center
This section contains instructions and information essential to the course
coordinator and instructors in making an effective presentation. Cadre
members must read this section and be thoroughly familiar with course
procedures and material prior to presentation.
The S-491, Intermediate National Fire Danger Rating course requires 36
hours for presentation. This course is designed to support the training
requirements of the Wildland and Prescribed Fire Qualification Guide, PMS
310-1. The course lessons and exercises support training for dispatchers and
others charged with editing and inputting weather information into WIMS
used for NFDRS calculations, fire management staff who apply NFDRS
outputs to decision making, and fire behavior specialists who incorporate
NFDRS products into assessments and projections.
The Wildland Fire Qualification System Guide provides guidance and a
national wildfire standard for establishing minimum training, skills,
knowledge, experience, and physical fitness requirements for the
participating agencies of the NWCG.
The Course Coordinator’s Guide (PMS 907) contains general information
for presentation of NWCG courses. The course coordinator and instructors
should be thoroughly familiar with this guide (online at
II. COURSE OBJECTIVES
Course objectives are stated in broad terms that define what students will be
able to accomplish after completing the course.
Upon completion of this course the student will demonstrate the knowledge
and skills necessary to operate, apply, and manage the National Fire Danger
III. INSTRUCTOR PREREQUISITES
Refer to the Field Manager’s Course Guide (PMS 901-1) for instructor
prerequisites specific to this course. This guide is accessible at
This is a 400 level course. In addition to the course specific instructor
prerequisites, all instructors are required to have 32 hours of instructor
training such as Facilitative Instructor (M-410), or an equivalent course, as
stated in the Field Manager’s Course Guide.
It is highly recommended that the entire cadre has either successfully
completed Advanced NFDRS or is an instructor for Advanced NFDRS. It is
a course goal at the Advanced NFDRS course to develop cadre for S-491.
Cadre selection is the responsibility of the lead instructor, with
administrative support from the course coordinator.
It is highly recommended that course coordinators consult with the S-491
Course Unit of the NWCG Equipment and Technology Branch, Fire
Environment Committee, Fire Danger Subcommittee in selecting the lead
instructor to present the S-491 course to maintain consistency and oversight
of courses taught nationally. At a minimum, the lead instructor has general
knowledge of the entire S-491 course material; has previous experience as a
Lead Instructor or Unit leader for S-491; has broad experience applying
NFDRS outputs; has the ability to relate each unit and lesson to the next and
to the entire course; and is competent to teach any lesson in the course.
The lead instructor shall be responsible for selecting the remainder of the
cadre for the course. The subject matter of this course is highly technical and
complex. The lead instructor shall make every effort to select the most
qualified individuals to teach individual lessons and lead units, paying
special attention to matching the instructor to the content and complexity of
Instructors should understand that they will be required to participate for the
duration of the course as coaches assisting students with software
applications during exercises.
It is essential that a computer specialist either be one of the faculty members
or be immediately available to the course presentation to resolve any
computer, network or printing problems encountered. Persons selected to fill
this capacity must be thoroughly familiar with the hardware (personal
computers, network, Internet connection, printers, projector) used in
presenting the course, with directory structures used, and to a lesser extent
the software and its installation.
In the event the Ebook is used to provide students with the Student
Workbook, PowerPoint and handouts, it is essential that the computer
specialist be conversant in adding and replacing files to the classroom
Unit Leader and Lesson Instructor
At a minimum, has completed S-491, preferably has attended the Advanced
NFDRS course. The unit leader must be competent in all the areas of
emphasis within the unit, be able to teach any of the lessons or provide
answers to detailed questions about the lesson’s content, and provide
leadership to coaches.
The lesson instructors should be competent and comfortable in presenting
the content of the lesson, answering technical questions on the lesson subject
matter, and have expertise with the course software sufficient to coach
students through course exercises.
The ratio of instructors and coaches to students must be no less than 1:5 to
insure availability of adequate coaching during exercises.
Lead instructors are encouraged to supplement the faculty with additional
instructors in training. These coaches may assist in lesson delivery, will
provide assistance to students completing course exercises, and will assist in
grading quizzes and the final exam. Coaches should be selected from
Advanced NFDRS or former S-491 students who demonstrate a particular
grasp of WIMS and/or NFDRS subject matter and have a desire to become
part of the Geographic Area’s faculty.
IV. INSTRUCTOR PREPARATION/COURSE COORDINATION
A. General Information
The Course Coordinator’s Guide (PMS 907) contains general
information for presentation of NWCG courses. The course
coordinator and instructors should be thoroughly familiar with this
guide (online at http://www.nwcg.gov/pms/training/training.htm).
Additional information about this course, its delivery, and the most
recent versions of the course content may be downloaded from
This site is maintained by the NWCG Fire Environment Working
Team’s Fire Danger Committee, S-491 Course subcommittee. The
subcommittee will make needed updates to the course material on an
annual basis based on comments referred to it from lead instructors
and those required by changes to the FireFamily Plus software.
Exercises are included in all units to provide students with hands on
practice in applying the training objectives contained within the unit.
Course instructors must be available to assist students during exercise
presentation to ensure that the student learns to use the FireFamily
Plus software in applying the learning objective to the given task.
Without immediate coaching support from faculty the student may
become frustrated to the degree that it compromises their successful
completion of the course.
V. COURSE MATERIALS
A. Instructor Guide
This course does not use the standard NWCG Instructor Guide format.
Instead, notes to the instructor are included in the notes pane of each
PowerPoint slide where needed. Course faculty must prepare for
lesson delivery by reviewing the student workbook, practicing
through lesson exercises before they are presented, PowerPoint
presentation, quizzes and final exam during the pre-course faculty
Unlike other NWCG courses, the Student Workbook lessons are full
narratives, not outlines. The detail and complexity of the subject
matter requires this format.
B. Course Materials
The course materials can only be obtained via Internet download from
This site also contains the answer keys for the pre-course work, along
with all printable materials required to present the course in Adobe
.pdf format; electronic presentations in Microsoft PowerPoint format,
data files needed for exercises, quizzes and the final exam; and an
Ebook version of the course that may be used in lieu of printing the
student workbook. A three ring binder of at least 2” capacity is
required to hold the Student Workbook.
C. Student Workbook
The Student Workbook contains the unit objectives, lesson narratives,
detailed exercises, and handouts. It does NOT include the unit quizzes
or final exam; the cadre or course coordinator will have to make
sufficient copies of these to hand out to the students.
Handouts and reference materials are included with the Student
Workbook. Special instructions for additional handouts not included
in the Student Workbook are indicated in the notes section of the
PowerPoint slides. Many references are located on the NFDRS
Reference CD. While this is a convenient package for the large
volume of material, documents on the CD may not be as easily
viewed by students as a printed copy. Lead and lesson instructors
should determine prior to the course presentation which, if any, of the
reference documents to provide the students in printed form.
Student Workbooks should be produced from the S-491 course
website prior to the beginning of the course, one for each student. This
course relies on color graphics rendered from the FireFamily Plus
software to illustrate interpretation of NFDRS inputs and outputs. It is
essential that the student workbook be printed in color to allow
students to interpret FireFamily Plus graphs.
Alternatively, the student workbook may be printed in black and
white with color graphs and handouts individually inserted in the
workbook, or the electronic presentation for each lesson should be
printed in color as two-slide-per-page handouts for each student.
The Student Workbook and PowerPoint presentations may also be
provided to the students on the classroom network as an “eBook”. An
advantage of using the eBook is that the workbook does not have to
be printed in color. Instead, students can follow the lesson using either
the electronic version of the Student Workbook or follow the
PowerPoint presentation as it is displayed by the instructor. The
primary disadvantage of using the Ebook to provide the Student
Workbook is that the student cannot take the material with them at
night to study the material, unless a printed version is also offered.
The lead instructor and course coordinator must decide on which
method of providing the student workbook will best serve their
E. Student Reference Materials
The NFDRS Reference CD (PMS 933/NFES 02687) contains
references and materials students will refer to throughout the course
and at their home unit. Order and distribute one CD for each student.
If the Ebook is used, provide each student a copy of the Ebook on CD
at the conclusion of the course.
Additional copies of Gaining an Understanding of the National Fire
Danger Rating System (PMS 932/NFES 2665) should be available to
students in the classroom.
D. Course Agenda
A sample agenda is on page 0.17. Revise the agenda as appropriate.
The agenda can be inserted into the Student Workbook prior to the
beginning of class.
VI. STUDENT TARGET GROUP
The course lessons and exercises support training for dispatchers and others
charged with editing and inputting weather information into WIMS used for
NFDRS calculations, fire management staff who apply NFDRS outputs to
decision making, and fire behavior specialists who incorporate NFDRS
products into assessments and projections.
VII. STUDENT PREREQUISITES
Demonstrate at least intermediate skills with the current Windows
Have successfully completed the Weather Information Management
System (WIMS) course (or equivalent).
Have successfully completed Intermediate Wildland Fire Behavior, S-
Successfully complete the pre-course work with a minimum passing
score of 70% or higher.
VIII. STUDENT PRE-COURSE WORK
A. Pre-course work is required for this course. The pre-course materials are
located online at:
The course coordinator can provide the pre-course work to the students
through the following options:
• Refer nominees to the online version; list the Web site in the letter.
• Mail nominees a hard copy.
The pre-course work consists of the following materials:
• Read Decisions and Risk self study module.
• Completion of the FAMWEB & KCFAST self study module.
• Completion of the WIMS for Beginners self study module.
• Read Gaining an Understanding of the National Fire Danger Rating
System and complete the accompanying quiz.
• Completion of the Fuels and Fuel Moisture self study guide and
complete the accompanying quiz.
• Completion of the FireFamily Plus self study module.
• Completion of the Data Sources self study module and quiz.
A checklist is provided at the website to assist students in returning all the
pre-course work components required.
A minimum cumulative passing score of 70% is required on the pre-course
work for acceptance into the course.
Nominees are highly encouraged to read the first three chapters of the
FireFamily Plus User’s Guide to develop introductory knowledge of the
software’s purpose and function. LINK
The pre-course work may be delivered by various techniques. The preferred
way is to provide the materials through distance learning methods.
Nominees will access http://training.nwcg.gov/pre-courses.html to download
course software and reading materials, and answer online delivered pre-
course modules and quizzes. The objective of placing the pre-course work
on line is to demonstrate the nominees’ ability to accomplish course related
tasks in the environment they will use in working with the NFDRS, that is,
on a computer with Internet access. Additionally, those nominees who do
not possess strong computer skills will have the opportunity to increase their
skills to a level adequate to insure their success in the classroom. On line
delivery aids the course coordinator and lead instructor by providing
automatic grading of nominees’ response to the quizzes, and direct email to
each nominee or the entire class. Nominees are required to submit their quiz
answers and required products and the pre-course work questions by the
identified deadline to the course coordinator or lead instructor.
The other option is to mail hardcopy materials to each student with enough
lead time to ensure that student’s can complete and return the pre-course
work to the lead instructor or course coordinator in time for grading, student
selection and notification of acceptance into the course to arrange travel.
Students should receive pre-course work information at least eight weeks
prior to beginning the course.
The course coordinator must send each nominee a letter that includes
information and instructions for completing the pre-course work. The letter
should also inform nominees that they must obtain a score of 70% or higher
to attend the course. A sample letter is on page 0.19.
It will take students approximately 16-20 hours to complete the pre-course
assignments. Students must return their completed pre-course questions to
the lead instructor either by e-mail, FAX, or regular mail three weeks before
B. Student Selection
To insure that only the most able and prepared individuals are selected for
the classroom portion of the course, the pre-course work is used to establish
baseline competency and skill in the subject matter and demonstration of
computer use. Generally there are more nominations for the course than
seats available. By providing each nominee with an opportunity to complete
the pre-course work with a passing score by the pre-established deadline, a
pool of potential students demonstrating the necessary skills for success in
the course is established. The course coordinator and lead instructor may
then select the final students for the classroom portion of the course from
those students with the highest scores on the pre-course work, while meeting
IX. COURSE NOMINATION LETTER
Send a nomination letter, along with the pre-course work materials, to
students at least eight weeks before the course begins. The letter should
instruct nominees to return the completed pre-course work materials to the
course coordinator or lead instructor at least three weeks prior to beginning
the course. An example course nomination letter is located on page 0.19. A
selection letter will need to be sent to students that successfully complete the
X. COURSE ACCEPTANCE LETTER
The course coordinator must send a course acceptance letter to each nominee
who successfully passes the pre-course work. This letter should explain class
time, date, and location. Refer to the Course Coordinator’s Guide (PMS 907)
for more information on selection letters.
XII. CADRE MEETINGS
Cadre meetings are an opportunity for instructors to meet, review the
material, practice through course exercises, and discuss concerns with the
course coordinator or lead instructor. The meetings are critical for instructors
who do not have previous experience with the course.
After each day’s presentation, hold a cadre meeting to discuss concerns and
progress. At the end of the course, conduct a final cadre meeting to evaluate
instructor performance and suggest modifications for future courses.
A cadre meeting in advance of the course presentation is suggested due to
the relationship of the unit material (changing instructional materials in one
unit may impact a later unit).
XIII. RECOMMENDED CLASS SIZE
The recommended class size is 25–30 students. The required student to
instructor ratio is no greater than 5:1. Cadre members must be present for all
instructional sessions. A minimum of seven instructors should present this
course; however, more are required with larger class sizes. This is to enable
strong mentorship by the cadre to the students (see Coaches in III. above).
XIV. SPACE AND CLASSROOM REQUIREMENTS
The characteristics of the classroom and support facilities have a great
impact on the learning environment. The classroom should be chosen and
viewed well in advance of the presentation. Ideally, this will be a computer
lab designed for computer-based training, with appropriate logistical support
items including computer, projector, projection screen, and adjustable
A. The following characteristic should be considered when choosing a
location and classroom:
• Provide adequate room and flexibility for student work groups and
equipment, including support facilities such as break areas,
restrooms, etc. A separate room for cadre is required.
• Free from outside interruptions and interferences.
• Controlled lighting, good acoustics, and good ventilation.
• Provide adequate access to copy and printing services.
• Provide adequate desk space and power outlets for laptop
computers (one power strip per table).
• A computer connected to the Internet and classroom network with
projector and screen is required. Test the equipment prior to
beginning class to ensure compatibility with software.
B. Special Requirements: One computer for each student in the following
Computers networked, and with sufficient network capacity that all
students can access the Internet, data or printers simultaneously. The
network should include at least one laser printer and one color inkjet
printer, with all computers mapped to both printers. Operating system
software should be the current Microsoft TM industry standard. Hardware
technology should be no more than two years old. Course software and
data must be pre-loaded and tested prior to the beginning of the
It is essential that for any method of computer setup, additional backup
computers be available to replace those that inevitably crash during the
course. This will ensure that the learning process is not significantly
disrupted or compromised by loss of computer hardware.
XV. STUDENT ASSESSMENT
The cadre will assess student performance by:
A. Exercises and Quizzes
Exercises and quizzes are designed to demonstrate students’ ability to
meet lesson objectives.
There are four quizzes designed to gauge students’ comprehension of
the unit objectives. These open-book quizzes are graded by cadre, and
returned to the students for review. This allows the student to build
knowledge on questions missed, and for the instructors to gauge the
students’ comprehension of the subject matter. Unit quizzes are
located at the course materials website. The unit quizzes evaluate all
B. Final Exam
The final exam evaluates the student’s achievement of the course
objective. One third of the total course points are in the quizzes, two
thirds are in the two part final exam. The minimum passing score for
the course is 70%. The final exam, answer key and grade sheet are at
the course materials website.
XVI. EXAMINATION AND CERTIFICATION
All materials for the two-part final exam are at the course materials website.
The exam should take approximately two hours to complete and two hours
to grade. Students must obtain a score of 70% or higher on the final exam to
receive a certificate of completion for this course.
XVII. COURSE EVALUATION FORMS
Copies of these forms are in Appendix D.
A. Student Training Course Evaluation Form
This is an opportunity for students to comment on the course and the
instructors for the purpose of improving future training sessions.
Distribute the form at the beginning or end of the course.
B. Training Course Evaluation Form
This is an opportunity for the course coordinator and instructors to
comment on course design. These comments are used by NWCG Fire
Environment Working Team’s Fire Danger Committee, S-491 Course
subcommittee to identify potential problems with course materials and
as a resource during the course revision process.
The following appendixes are on the S-491 Course Materials website:
• Appendix A – Course Materials (Student Workbook, PowerPoints,
• Appendix B – Pre-Course Work Answer Keys
• Appendix C – Student Assessment
This appendix contains the Quizzes, Final Examination and Answer
Keys. Duplicate enough copies of the final examination for each
• Appendix D – Course Evaluation Forms
Intermediate National Fire Danger Rating, S-491
Day 1 Monday Instructor
PPT Unit 1: Introduction
0800-0810 Course Logistics
0830-0845 1A: Review of Pre-work
0845-1000 1B: Setting the Stage
Unit 2: NFDRS Inputs
1000-1200 2A: NFDRS Inputs
1300-1400 2B: Weather Station Siting & Maintenance
1400-1600 2C: Data Quality Control
1600-1730 2D: Fuel Model Properties
Day 2 Tuesday Instructor
0800-0830 Daily Quiz #1 and Logistics
Unit 3: Calculations & Outputs
0830-1030 3A: Dead and Live Fuel Moisture Dynamics
1030-1130 3B: NFDRS Outputs
1230-1300 Quiz 1 Review
1300-1400 3B: NFDRS Outputs (cont’d)
1400-1500 3C: Linking Observed Weather to Forecasted Indices
1500-1700 3D: Sensitivity of NFDRS
Day 3 Wednesday Instructor
0800-0830 Daily Quiz #2 and Logistics
Unit 4: Data Retrieval and Analysis
0830-1030 4A: Data Retrieval
1030-1200 4B: Using FireFamily Plus Exercise
1300-1330 Quiz 2 Review
1330-1600 4B: Using FireFamily Plus Exercise (cont’d)
Unit 5: Decisions and Applications
1600-1700 5A: Decision Making with NFDRS
Day 4 PPT Thursday Instructor
0800-0830 Day 3 Quiz and Logistics
0830-0930 5B: Climatological Breakpoints
0930-1100 5C: Fire Business Thresholds
1100-1200 5D: NFDRS Decisions and Applications
1300-1330 Quiz 3 Review
1330-1430 5D: NFDRS Decisions and Applications (cont’d)
1430-1600 5E: Fire Danger Rating Operating Plan
1600-1630 Day 4 Quiz
1630-1700 Day 4 Quiz Grading & Course Review
Day 5 Friday Instructor
0800-1000 Final Exam
1000-1130 Lesson 5F: Related Products
1130-1200 Close out/ Evaluations
1200 Course Ends – Review Quiz(s) and Final
PRE-COURSE WORK LETTER
TRAINING CENTER NAME
Month Date, Year
TO: Course Participants and Training Officers
FROM: NAME, Course Coordinator
SUBJECT: S-491, Intermediate National Fire Danger Rating System
Congratulations! You have been tentatively selected to attend the S-491Intermediate National
Fire Danger Rating System course presented by the TRAINING CENTER NAME AND
LOCATION. The classroom will be in the LOCATION. The course will begin promptly on
DAY, MONTH, YEAR at TIME and end DAY, MONTH, YEAR at TIME. Please arrange your
travel accordingly, as you must attend the entire course to receive credit.
The majority of the instruction in the S-491 course will assume you have a command of the
knowledge taught in the prerequisite fire behavior courses (S-190 and S-290), no less than
intermediate skills in WindowsTM computer commands for file and data management, and the
motivation to learn WIMS and NFDRS basics within established deadlines.
The pre-course work package developed for S-491 is designed to help you prepare for and
successfully complete the course, and to allow us to evaluate your readiness. The pre-course
work package for the course (consisting of reading, tutorials, and quizzes) is available at
http://training.nwcg.gov/pre-courses.html . Previous experience with the material indicates it will
take as much as 16-20 hours to complete the pre-course work reading, lessons and quizzes. You
may be tempted to wait until a day or two before the deadline to complete your pre-course work,
but you really really really shouldn’t.
If you do not already have a copy, you will need Gaining an Understanding of the National Fire
Danger Rating System to complete a portion of the pre-course work (PMS 932, NFES 2665)
available from the Great Basin Cache or download from
Please note you are required to possess both a Weather Information Management System
(WIMS) and Wildland Fire Management Information (WFMI) logon ID for this course, both to
complete the pre-course work and for use in the classroom. Students can obtain a WIMS ID by
going to the FAMWEB Logon ID Request Form. If you encounter problems acquiring your
WIMS ID or gaining access to the site, contact the USFS National Information Systems Help
Desk at 1-800-253-5559 or Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Allow a minimum of three business days
for the Help Desk to provide you with your WIMS Logon ID.
Students who need WFMI access for THIS COURSE ONLY can obtain a WFMI ID by going to
completing the form and faxing it to Roshelle Pederson at 208-387-5179. Students needing
WFMI access for long term purposes related to their job should request access following the
instructions on the WFMI home page.
If you do not have a WIMS and WFMI ID, do not delay in requesting access.
If you do not have FireFamily Plus v4.0 loaded on the computer you will use to complete the
pre-course work, it can be downloaded from http://www.firemodels.org/content/view/37/50/ .
Select the ffp4setup file. You will also need to download the database required to complete the
FireFamily Plus exercise from s491_class_database.zip . You will have to extract and save the
files from the .zip folder before use in FireFamily Plus. We recommend you save the data files in
the same directory where FireFamily Plus is installed.
The pre-course work quizzes must be completed and returned to LEAD INSTRUCTOR OR
COURSE COORDINATOR no later than DAY, MONTH, YEAR. A score of 70% or higher is
required on the pre-course work for acceptance into the classroom portion of the course. All
nominees will be notified by DAY, MONTH, YEAR of their status, either accepted to continue
in the course, or declined. Use the pre-course work checklist to make sure you have completed
and returned everything required.
In the event that you cannot attend this course, please contact me no later than DAY,
MONTH, YEAR, as there are typically several students on the course waitlist.
ADD ANY ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FOR YOUR GEOGRAPHIC AREA
I look forward to meeting you in MONTH. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free
to contact either lead instructor NAME or course coordinator NAME.
LEAD INSTRUCTOR COURSE COORDINATOR
CONTACT INFO - NAME CONTACT INFO - NAME