It’s been a wet summer here in the Alberni Valley but that doesn’t mean local fire departments are letting their guard down.
The Sproat Lake Volunteer Fire Department’s (SLFD) members were packed into the No. 3 fire hall last Tuesday night for their weekly fire practice—but this time, covering something a little outside their wheelhouse.
“The S100 is the forest firefighter course,” said deputy Chief Rick Geddes. The fire department does it every year but after last year’s local fire season, knowing your way around the bush has taken on a new importance.
“Basically the S100 course is designed for people in the bush to learn to fight fires safely,” said SLFD duty officer Derrick Cyr.
“But because we cover so much in the fire department prior to it I don’t do the full-blown S100. What I try to do is cover off the points they need to know to perform their job safely.”
A new forestry firefighting course is being developed for structural firefighters, Cyr added.
While the Sproat Lake department focuses on structural firefighting (houses, businesses and such), and not forestry, Chief Mike Cann said it’s good for their members to get at least an orientation session on forest fires—something that’s very different from the average house fire.
“Structural firefighting is really intense for 20 minutes. We train to get to a fire scene as fast as we can, put water on a house fire. Forestry is not like that—it’s kind of set up for the long haul,” said Cann.
“It’s working around brush, what to do when digging down around roots. Tonight they’re doing danger trees so they can tell if a tree’s been burned out or if a tree is dead as opposed to a green tree.”
Details like that are important, he added.
“A dead tree that’s had a little fire damage is actually not nearly as strong as a healthy green tree that’s been burnt.”
Cyr said he speeds up the course for the Sproat Lake crews.
“If it was for the forestry workers I would cover off a lot more pumps and pumping, how to use the water correctly, foams, trucks, a lot of interface stuff,” he said.
“Whereas within the fire department that’s a lot of our regular training so I don’t have to do that. It’s things everybody should already know.”
The full S100 course is two days long and takes trainees outside of the classroom.
“The first day is all in the classroom with the theory part. The second day is outside and it’s the hands on stuff. I’ll pull out the pumps, pull out the hoses, show them how terrible it is to run those pumps and how you can hurt yourself with them, whereas I don’t have to do that with the fire department because we’re not actually obligated to go out in the bush and go do that. Forestry will be there.
“We’ll normally just run off our trucks because we don’t have the equipment to fight forest fires.”
Their own crews don’t tend to go more than 200-300 feet away from their trucks. Since the Sproat Lake area doesn’t have hydrants, the crews are well practiced at using their tender trucks as a water supply.
Taking the abbreviated version lets SLFD help, rather than get in the way.
“We can use forestry as a mutual aid inside of our district and they can also use us as mutual aid outside of our district,” said Cann.
“We’re not actually certified, it’s just an in-house thing that we do so we can work with forestry.”
If the firefighting season gets really intense as it did last year, the training keeps the department ready to fight forest fires of their own initiative.
“There could be circumstances like last year where all the forestry guys were out fighting fires all over the place and our boundaries were extended so we could do that without being asked as mutual aid,” said Cann.
Luckily there hasn’t been much application for the forestry skills lately.
“Knock on wood, we haven’t really been out the past couple years,” said Cann.
“Last year we had that small one at the blueberry farm off Faber. That was from a lightning strike.”
The last big forest fire was in a patch of woods between Cherry Creek and Beaver Creek for a rail-caused fire.
“The last one was to probably help Cherry Creek and Beaver Creek on Drinkwater Road. That was three or four years ago. It was one caused by sparks from the steam train.”
But the training really came in handy in 2003 when the interior burned and burned and burned.
“Then we sent a truck out to Kelowna in 2003. That was when they lost all those houses [to forest fires] out there from the fire storm out there.”