Last year was my first real up close and personal experience with wildfires. I had heard about them, seen them on the news, but actually reporting on them was a completely different story.
I couldn’t believe the vast land they covered, how lightning could spark them by the hundreds and how they could impact cities hundreds of kilometres away.
Because of the fires, some cities in British Columbia had the worst air quality in the entire world, even in Vancouver we were warned to not go outside for too long because of the smoke.
While I had been exposed firsthand to wildfires, what I didn’t know much of went on behind the scenes. I knew that the men and women fighting the flames had to be brave, strong, and smart, but what I didn’t know was the physical and mental training that went into their job, the hours spent fighting fires and the hours of classroom strategy to make sure they had a plan A, B and C.
B.C. WILDFIRE SERVICE BOOTCAMP
This year, I had the chance to go behind the scenes and visit the B.C. Wildfire Service bootcamp. There are three bootcamps throughout the spring, which attract about 200 recruits from all over the province.
The recruits will live in tents for about a week and go through some intense training that will test them mentally and physically. The training consists of in-the-classroom work with some wildfire experts from around the province and then work in the field.
I was amazed to see the work they have to do in the field. When I was there it was close to 30°C and the sun was strong, but yet, they were running up hills, carrying equipment and not once would you hear them complain. Instead, the only things you would hear from there was encouragement for their teammates.
TEAMMATES ARE CRITICAL
Teammates was the big take away of the day. I had a chance to speak with B.C. Wildfire technician Kyle Young.
He said teamwork was the most important lesson the recruits would learn this week. “This is my 13th year being involved in the bootcamp and I am really passionate about it. It is refreshing for instructors coming in to see how everyone reacts and comes together as a team," said Young.
He also said you are going to have to rely heavily on your team when you are out there fighting "real wildfires."
During the bootcamp, we saw the recruits go through different stations. One station was working on initial response. They had to react to a real fire in the forest.
Moments later, we heard on the radio another fire had broken out. Young told me the reason for this is because they constantly have to be on their toes, and that in the real world of fighting wildfires, it is so unpredictable.
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Another station was called gear carries. In the blazing heat, the recruits were running up a hill with approximately 20 pounds of equipment on their backs. This was to help them prepare for when you can only access a fire via a hike.
They would run up and down with equipment for two hours a day. Young told me sometimes they will be fighting a fire for 14 days straight, so they have to make sure that their stamina and endurance is there.
Being there and seeing bootcamp firsthand gave me a whole new perspective on wildfires and it gave me more respect for the ones that are out on the frontline of the blaze.
I cannot thank all of these men and women enough for protecting our homes, land and forests, though.