The Job Fighting wildfire is unlike any other experience. One day you could be sent to a massive campaign fire or to another province or country on an export – the next you could be sent on a search and rescue mission. I have fought wildfires that range in size from four hundred thousand hectares to ones the size of a campfire. Wildfires never act the same and therefore always pose a new challenge. In order to effectively fight these wildfires, we as firefighters need to be organized, efficient and knowledgeable. I am part of the Wildfire Rappel Program. This program recruits people with a broad spectrum of skills and traits, but there are two musts: you need to be fit and you need to be disciplined. The Rappel recruitment camp challenges the recruits mental stamina and physical capabilities. Many find they come unprepared for this challenge. When I went through the process I was completely unaware of how difficult the camp was going to be and how much a one-month competitive tryout could have such a positive impact on my life.
The Rappel program is outfitted with 63 firefighters. These men and women are then divided into nine different crews made up of seven firefighters per crew. The program started in 1983 and embodies a train-to-replace mentality. Coming into my fourth year, I find this mentality one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. Sharing what I have learned from rappel mentors and personal experiences with new recruits, returnees, and even senior firefighters is remarkably gratifying. The program embodies a lifelong learning approach. Everyone brings a different skill set to the table. We teach each other and this creates unity and strength in the program. I love that everyone is willing to take on new challenges and expand upon their life skills. The People The men and women I work with have impacted me the most. I work with some of the toughest and most inspiring firefighters that Canada and North America have to offer. We look out for one another on and off the fire line. I have created lasting relationships thanks to this job with people across the globe from Canada, Germany, France, Australia, and New Zealand. Working alongside other like-minded individuals has humbled me and pushed me to accomplish things I would have never imagined doing alone. I have found that working with other specialized crews such as Helitack crews, Unit crews, Firetack crews, and airtankers provide me with valuable experience and the tools to expand on my firefighting skill-set. Throughout this season I will be sharing what my fellow firefighters and I do and experience throughout the fire season. Stay tuned for an exciting year and an unforgettable adventure. Until next time, – Jamie