Welcome to The Fire Break, a newsletter that goes beyond daily news to provide you with insights into wildfires. I’ve been chatting with wildfire fighters who say their work is poorly understood. That’s because, if you’re like me, you’ve probably assumed that fires are fires, and firefighters just … fight them. Wrong!
Municipal firefighters are focused on saving us, our homes and our businesses. Wildfire fighters are orchestrating staff and machinery on a way larger scale of space and time. Their fires rip through vast landscapes, not buildings. The materials burning are vegetation, not mattresses and TV’s. The fire behaves differently, so they use different tools, techniques and language to do their jobs.
So what happens when a major wildfire breaks out near an urban area, and suddenly, two specialized crews have to work hand-in-hand? Stuff can go wrong. And did in #BCWildfire2017. (Hence another provincial review of the wildfire response, which you can read about here.) Crews may not know how to use each other’s equipment, like water pumps. The chain of command and even the radio frequency to use can cause confusion.
That’s why B.C.’s first major wildfire training for municipal firefighters is a big deal. Earlier this month, 150 firefighters from 28 different departments across the province descended upon the City of Penticton to practice in real-time, bushfire included (controlled, of course).
The training was organized by Penticton’s Fire Chief Larry Watkinson, and firefighters learned how work with wildfire crews to deploy sprinklers around homes, build guards around fires and work with helicopters as they drop water. Watkinson says that firefighting crews across the province will better understand how to work together as a unified front to protect people and homes. They’ll also be better equipped to avoid risks like those faced by firefighters in Fort McMurray 2016.
Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson rips around on one the off-road vehicles he wrangled for the training. Photo by Mike Biden
Fire Chief Larry Watkinson came up with the idea for this training while at a fire conference in Reno, Nevada. He sketched the idea on a napkin and then turned it into reality. What did it take? This was his to do list leading up to the training:
- Air time with helicopters (preferably for free)
- Seven fire trucks (make sure not on duty)
- 36 homes (make sure homeowners are on board)
- Find a place with excess brush to burn a fire
- Borrow search and rescue command centre
- Get local business to lend fleet of off-road vehicles
- Get province, RCMP, emergency services on board
- Find money to keep costs low for small fire departments
I’m happy to report he checked them all off his list.
See it yourself.
Wildfire responses are not the kind of stuff you learn in classrooms. Want to see them in action? Check out this video:
You can see more of the videos about the event here.
Have your say.
Anything else you want to know about how wildfires are fought? You can send in your answer on my environment page at thediscstage.wpengine.com/environment. Send me a note anytime via email, Facebook and Twitter.
If you like what you’re seeing so far, invite a friend or two to subscribe. [end]