The start of a new shift is like a blank page of an unwritten story. This shift, my first thought was a long weekend of patrols – and that is how it started – but there was so much more in store for me and my crew.
We started patrolling the Maclean Creek area, hunting down abandoned campfires, found a few, called them in and “soak-it, stir-it, and soak-it again”, you know, the standard protocol when putting fires out. After three days of hunting down campfires and helping out lost campers, it was time move on from the long weekend.
After the weekend, my crew got a call to head up to Peace River and off we went. The area was dry, very dry. After getting briefed by the Duty Officer, we headed out to our base – Chinchaga. The crew was hyped just to be there. We partnered with a helicopter and our pilot was awesome – but let’s get back to the action. After a few days waiting for a fire call, dispatch sent us to a wildfire! We jumped into the helicopter. As we lifted off we could already see a few smoke columns ahead.
That same afternoon we were dispatched again, this time we headed north. Right in front of us was a gnarly, grey looking smoke column. And BAM, a rush of excitement came over me. The wildfire was too intense for us to land, so we landed about four kilometres away in a lease site where met up with a few firefighters from another crew.
We immediately got to work cutting a helipad. I kept one ear on the radio as we were working, listening to pilots dropping buckets of water. After about an hour of bucketing, our helicopters had to land. That’s when the airtanker group started to do some work by boxing in the fire. You could hear the airtanker’s engine roar as it soared over top of us.
After a few hours of excitement, we were finally able to move in. It was a hike. Although only four kilometres, we went through some gnarly and tangled up bush. We ended up making it to the wildfire pretty quickly. We cut a helipad and were back on standby to respond to new wildfire starts – what we call man-up.
The next morning we got another call and headed to another wildfire. This was a small one, just 0.1 hectares – it wasn’t smoking very much, but there were few hot spots. So we did what we do best – put it out. With no water sources anywhere to be found nearby, we hooked up our helicopter’s bucket to bring in water from the air. With the bucket we were able to open up the hot spots and soak the earth deep enough to make sure that the next hot and windy day there would be zero chance of a restart. After an hour of digging up all the hot areas, my crew was confident and called it extinguished. With another helipad cut, we were back to man-up. We finished up our shift in the Peace River area and headed back to our home base in the Calgary area. I was pretty pumped to finish our shift on a high note.
That evening we got unpacked and said, “hey what’s up,” to our fellow firefighters in Calgary. After settling in bed, my phone started ringing. Well, it’s 11:30 p.m. and it’s a fire call. I rounded up the boys and jumped in the truck. Dispatched with two other crews to a wildfire just outside of Cochrane, we got there and met up with the Cochrane Fire department who had used their “bush buggie” to put out the fire. We cleaned up any smouldering ground fire left over and went back to base.
Just as we thought we were in the clear, the next night my phone rings again – another fire call. I crawl out of bed, in my hot pink briefs, a walking zombie going room-to-room to rally the troops. The boys just looked at me with a blank stare and said “nice joke.” But they got up in a hurry and got to the truck quicker than I expected. We got more information and headed to the Morley dump. We arrived and dump was burning. I was glad that the Morley and Exshaw fire departments were there. They did an awesome job. I can’t say enough good things about how well they fought that fire.
After an exciting shift of wildfires, travelling and man-up, I truly couldn’t wait for my days off. I’m super pumped to see and read about how Natalie and Jamie are smashing fires. Oh, and a shout out to the many agencies who partner with us to fight fires, like Crowsnest Pass Rescue (pictured above), and my fellow crew leader Connor “Coco”. Thanks for reading.
Now I’m off to my next adventure!