Three things wildland firefighters do when not on the fireline

This fire season has been extremely busy across the province for Alberta wildland firefighters, but what do we do when there is little to no fire activity in Alberta?

If there is limited fire activity in Alberta3F6A0624-2 we can be exported to provinces and countries experiencing significant fire activity. Likewise they share firefighters with Alberta when needed, which we witnessed earlier this season. Within the past month, the wildfire hazard and fire activity across Alberta has decreased allowing the province to send wildland firefighters to Northwest Territories and the United States assisting in both Idaho and Montana. I have never been on an export out of the province but for the lucky few it is an unforgettable experience.

The wildland firefighters remaining in Alberta await new wildfire starts or continue to work on all of the outstanding wildfires currently presenting little to no threat. We just returned from one tour in High Level and a second in Fort McMurray where we helped suppress more than six large wildfires. My crew and I rappelled in and cut numerous helipads for oFirelinether crews to action nearby hotspots. It can take weeks to months to put out a wildfire from the day it starts. While you may see little fire activity in the media or on the Wildfire Alberta App, there are still firefighters hiking, rappelling or hover exiting into remote locations in search of hot spots on wildfires across province.

This job does not always revolve around fighting wildfires, which adds to the long list of reasons of why I love my job. When we’re not on the fireline, at home or abroad, we usually work on any of these three things: Provincial Assistance, Provincial/Area Projects and Training.

Provincial Assistance:

Unfortunately natural disasters occasionally strike Alberta such as the floods of 2013 and the flash snow fall Calgary experienced in 2014. In these instances, firefighting crews are allocated to assiFlood dogsFlood st with disaster relief. I was sent down to the High River flood in 2013 to provide assistance. My crew and I assisted by helping with animal rescue and relocation and the recovery of the High River waste treatment facility.

Provincial/Area Projects:

A big project the province is involved in is the FireSmart program. Crews work on thinning forests, removing ladder fuels and dead fuels surrounding forested communities in Alberta. Ladder fuels are small and medium fuels such as tree branches, bushes, deadfall and small trees in the unFireSmart Workderstory of forests. Most spruce trees have dead branches on the lower portion of the tree. Immature pine trees also have ladder fuels on the lower portion of the tree, while mature pine trees are self-pruning and do not usually have ladder fuels.      When ladder fuels are removed it can prevent ground fires from climbing into the tops, or crowns, of trees. Once a fire hits the crowns, it can spread much quicker. Other projects include repairs and maintenance of grounds, provincial parks and fire camps in Alberta.

Training:

Training is one of the most important things we as wildland firefighters do. It allows us to do our jobs safely and effectively. Crews train in many different ways so I will touch on both firefighting and rappel relevant training. All wildland firefighters work on many different training exercises throughout the year such as: pump proficiency and hose laying, GPS, compass and mapping, outdoor survival, strategy and tactics, Jamie Rappeladvanced wildfire behaviour, team bonding/camaraderie, mock fire scenarios, wildfire knowledge tests, first aid, search and rescue, and equipment testing to name a few. Rappel specific training involves rappelling, cargo extractions, cargo deployments, emergency retrievals, mock-ups and towers, and emergencies while rappelling.

This season my crew and I executed a first aid exercise where a “mock” tree had fallen on a member pinning him to the ground and knocking him unconscious. Not knowing the extent of his “mock” injuries, we safely extracted the individual from a remote location using a handcrafted stretcher. The crew and I then extracted the individual to a helipad for further air extraction.

Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – A Ring of Fire

Troy 2Sometimes with a job like this it’s hard to find love. I can see why that is. It’s about finding that one person who understands that you’re gone, and have to split time with your crew.  Well this blog isn’t about me, but about the woman that loves me – job and all. Let me give you a bit of background on our relationship.

Scarlett and I have been married for about a year now and have been together a total of six years.  Time flies when you’re having fun! We’ve had our troubles like other couples, but she puts up with me and supported me when I decided to make wildland fighting my career about five years ago. I’m sure you’re wondering how she puts up with me and my crazy job…who better to tell you than my wife herself?

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Look Out Aquatic Invasives…There are New Dogs in Town!

Aquatic invasive species, including zebra and quagga mussels, are serious threats to Alberta’s waterways. The province is so committed to keeping Alberta mussel-free that mussel-sniffing dogs are now a permanent addition to the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Program.

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Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – One Busy Summer!

Erica & Glen waiting for helicopter pick up after a long day on the fireline!

Ryan and Devon waiting for a ride too!

Ryan and Devon waiting for a ride too!

As I write this blog entry from the truck en route to the High Level wildfire management area, I am realizing it is August…wow where did this summer go! The last month has been a busy one for the Edson Unit Crew. Last shift was spent working three wildfires in the Edson wildfire management area (EWMA) then working the end of our shift on a wildfire in the Grande Prairie wildfire management area. A total of four wildfires! It was a pretty exciting shift and we got to do a wide range of wildland firefighting work.

Our first two wildfires in our home area of Edson were approximately 150 hectares in size. Terrain was challenging at times and it didn’t help that we had to carry and shuffle gear through the rolling hills of the EWMA! Continue reading

Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – “Golden Wildfire”

IMG_2421Occasionally a wildland firefighter works a wildfire that is unlike any other. Many wildfires are unforgettable for many different reasons to each firefighter, but there is always one that stands out among the rest. I call that the “Golden Wildfire.” Usually these wildfires are so big and powerful that they are nearly impossible to contain. Within this last month I was fortunate enough to experience my “Golden Wildfire.”

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Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – It’s a bird, it’s a plane…wait…it’s your boy Troy!

hooking up the bucket 2Boom! After three quick days off, the boys and I were back at it again.  I suspected that my crew would be returning to the Peace River area but no matter where we go we are excited for the export. Driving up, we heard a lot on the radio about the wildfires in High Level, Alberta and La Ronge, Saskatchewan to name a few – the high need for trained wildland firefighters sure pumps us up for every shift! So far this year, Alberta has had over 1,400 wildfires. That’s almost more than we had all of last year and it’s only July. Don’t worry; we firefighters have put an ‘E’, extinguishment, on over 1,300 of them.

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You must be mis-snaken!

It’s a bad guy in many literary references. It’s Indiana Jones’ worst nightmare. It represents temptation, chaos and cunning. Today – on World Snake Day – we want to try to smooth out the snake’s reputation and tip the scales in his favour!

Prairie rattlesnake

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Having fun naturally – Parks Day celebrations

AEP-Twitter-Infographics-DinosaurParks-ChooseParks Day is July 18 and Alberta’s provincial parks are alive with all kinds of activities.

Games, food, displays, crafts, water activities, tours, treasure hunts, contests, special entertainment and even water bomber demonstrations are just some of the festivities scheduled at Alberta’s parks throughout the weekend of July 18 and 19.

WOS 2007 Parks Day 166While provincial parks generally see close to half a million people taking part in programs each year, it’s anticipated that Parks Day will draw upwards of 10,000 visitors to parks across Alberta.

With a provincial park or protected area within an hour of almost every community in Alberta, there are plenty of opportunities to get out and enjoy. Here is just a little of what to look forward to across Alberta:

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I Can’t Believe I Get Paid To Do This

Story by Brian Orr – Interpretation and Outreach Programmer at Miquelon Lake Provincial Park

Imagine having one of those jobs where you say to yourself: I can’t believe I get paid to do this.

Well, I don’t have to imagine, for me it’s a reality. Besides having a provincial park as my backyard, being a park interpreter is the best job I could ever hope for. Every morning as I get ready for the day, I become more and more excited. Today, I’m leading two separate environmental education programs – one on invertebrates (insects, spiders and such) and another on wetland ecology.

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Alberta Wildland Firefighter Adventures – Set the Bar High

group shot

As many as you know, this wildfire season has been very, very busy. There have been more than 1,300 wildfires in Alberta alone since April 1, but firefighters have put out over 1,200 of them. Everyone across the province has been working extremely hard – from the wildfire crews and aircraft working in the field to the many people behind the scenes: radio operators, warehouse staff, logistics and the lookout towers, just to name a few. It couldn’t be done without everyone’s dedicated efforts! I’m very proud to be a part of the Alberta Wildfire Management Team and the amount of work we have accomplished to date.

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