It’s Forest Week in Alberta! Our forests are filled with biodiversity, economic opportunity and adventure. Protecting the beauty and majesty of our province’s 38 million hectares of forests and the life supported and protected within is neither an easy task nor for the faint of heart but it’s a challenge that wildland firefighters proudly take head on.
Facing difficult terrain and intense weather conditions on a daily basis, the job is not without risk but is also rewarding and exciting. This summer, three of our very own firefighters will be sharing their stories – blogging and posting to Alberta Wildfire social media. Meet Troy, Natalie and Jamie.
Troy – 5th year wildland firefighter
“Why did I become a wildland firefighter? The honest truth is that I yearned for the next big adventure. This is my adventure.
When I first started thinking about what I wanted to do in life, I thought about everything. From the military to emergency medical services, but I simply didn’t know where to start. The summer of 2010 changed everything. That fateful summer, the Williams Lakes fire sparked a desire within me to do something to help. The thick smoke hovering in Edmonton opened a door. Maybe I could help stop a wildfire in its tracks.
Without wasting any time, I applied to forestry schools and said to myself ‘let’s see what happens here!’ In the fall, I found myself enrolling with Portage College Forestry Program. After the wildfire and chainsaw course, I instantly knew I had found my calling – fighting fire and cutting big timber. Halfway through the program, I was eager to get out into the bush and just start doing something positive with my life. Could I have really been so lucky to find a job I love? I couldn’t wait to get started. After graduating, I applied to a contract firefighting company and got on! Excitedly, I packed my bags and loaded my green Ford ranger headed for Calgary. In 2012, I applied to the Government of Alberta’s Helitack Program and took the next step in furthering my firefighting career.
Five years later, I am hooked on fighting fire. I have made some of the best friends I could have ever asked for. These friends – I call them family. I never imagined I could truly love a job and the people I work with. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Natalie – 4th year wildland firefighter
“It’s not your typical 9 to 5 job!
I am a wildland firefighter for the Alberta’s Wildfire Management Branch and have been for the last four fire seasons. Twelve-plus hour days, knee deep in muskeg, sixty-pound hose bags, twenty pounds of personal fire gear, flocks of black flies smothering you, above twenty degree temperatures, dense coniferous forests – these are all typical experiences while working on a fireline and I absolutely worship it all.
When I signed up to be a part of a wildfire crew, I never imagined how amazing it would be. It has surpassed all my expectations. Wildland firefighting is one of the most physically demanding jobs and every day is different. I’m on a crew with twenty other men and women who have become like family to me. For most of my life I have been playing team sports from field hockey, soccer, rugby, ice hockey. All the things I love about my sporting teams can translate into why I love being a part of a firefighting crew. Spending hours on end together, training and pushing each other’s limits in fitness, helps develop close friendships. We take pride in our work protecting our natural resources, especially after being on the fireline for eighteen days and seeing all the work done – it is pretty rewarding to say the least!
When I’m not living at the firebase I reside in Canmore Alberta, where one ski season turned into four. The beauty of the mountains never ceases to mesmerize me. You can usually find me running, working out, doing yoga, biking, snowboarding, hockey or hiking. I just love being outdoors and being active! Always full of energy and always looking to explore and find the next big adventure! “
Jamie – 4th year wildland firefighter.
“Four years ago, becoming a wildland rappel firefighter wasn’t in the cards for me. I was heading into my second year of university to become a physician in Alberta. I’d worked as a labourer installing natural gas lines in summers to put myself through school, but I decided I needed a change. I’d heard about the Rappel program through a friend and I decided to apply in November 2011. I never imagined that a summer job would be the most rewarding experience of my life.
It is hard to explain why I love my job without giving some context to how I actually got the job. Getting through recruitment camp was physically the hardest thing I have ever accomplished. When I had arrived at recruit camp I felt like I had a good shot, I thought I was in good shape and my ego pushed me to believe it. All three of these thoughts and actions came into check throughout training. By day two my ego was in check, by day three I was unsure if I was better suited than the other recruits for the job, and by day five I was no longer in good shape… I was exhausted. There are two things that got me through rappel recruitment camp: the first being my stubbornness, and the second being my fellow recruits. Interestingly, this is a fundamental part of the rappel program as it’s built on mental stamina and teamwork. Without these two traits, the program wouldn’t exist. The entire experience of competing for a spot on the Rappel team was unforgettable and I use that as the founding reason for why I love my job.
Before I’d even fought a fire I loved my job. I will never forget the very first time I flew in a helicopter; the sound of the engine coming to life, the turbine spooling up, the rotor blades slicing through the air, and the wind generated from the blades. It is engrained into my memory. Then, all of a sudden, we were floating, suspended in the air, a form of weightlessness. Within five minutes of flight we came to a hover at which point the door was opened and I stepped into suspension outside of the helicopter for the first time. I was soon racing to the ground with a rope passing feverishly through my hands. When I used my hands to slow my decent and touched my feet on the ground, I simply smiled. I had flown in and rappelled out of a helicopter for the first time in my life, the sense of accomplishment I had will unlikely be paralleled. I would be lying if I said this wasn’t a major reason why I love my job. But the single most important reason I am still a firefighter today and why I truly love my job is because of the men and women I work with. I work with some of the toughest and most inspiring firefighters that Canada and North America have to offer. I love my job.”
Check back Fridays this summer to be part of the adventure and if you are planning on exploring Alberta’s forests for yourself this year – have fun and stay safe!