Firefighter in the Field: Update From The Edson Unit Crew

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The Edson Unit Crew has had an incredibly busy start to the 2016 wildfire season. We expected dry conditions with the low amounts of precipitation that fell over winter; however, the fire behavior has been truly surprising. We have had the pleasure of working with crews from all over the world to keep Alberta safe. It’s times like these when all of our training, fitness, and commitment to safety come into play.

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Initially, I was drawn to firefighting by the team spirit and camaraderie that accompanies being on a crew with 20 people. This will be my third year on the Edson Unit Crew and my first year leading a sub crew. Generally, Unit crews work on bigger, sustained action fires; however, we are also tasked with a wide range of other duties. These include being used as an initial action resource on fires, working on FireSmart projects around communities, or even assisting in infrared helicopter scanning.

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Right from the start of the season we were busy fighting fires working as an initial action crew. This means we would be ready to receive a call for a wildfire detection and be flown out as the first crew to action it. It’s impressive watching how efficiently everyone works together in these situations: the detection of the smoke from a lookout tower, dispatchers working in the fire centre, incredibly skilled helicopter pilots, and all the firefighters on the ground. Everyone has an important role to play, and it simply cannot be achieved without everyone’s hard work!

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As the season continued, we found ourselves being called onto larger fires that were threatening communities. This meant that we were working side by side with many different municipal structural fire departments. One of those moments was when the hamlet of Duffield had to be evacuated. Both wildfire and structural fire crews successfully managed to fight off the flames which resulted in no homes being lost. Seeing the edge of the burned black all the way up to the edge of the schoolyard was a truly humbling experience, knowing that the wildfire was stopped just in time and all of everyone’s hard work paid off. Many of the elementary students from the school wrote thank you notes and drew pictures for all the firefighters, EMS, and police. Having them posted up on the dining hall wall warmed the hearts of all who read them, leaving smiles on all of our faces.

We are often put into high risk situations that demand our expertise. It is key to be constantly perfecting our skills, while also striving to learn more and grow on a regular basis. We are very lucky to have Michelle Wigmore as our leader with her over 20 years of fire experience. She has accumulated a wealth of knowledge when it comes to wildfire behavior and tactics. Furthermore, her passion and dedication to the job ensures everyone pushes themselves, while keeping the crew motivated and safe. Having a well-trained, fit crew means we can do our job in the most effective manner possible. Our crew maintains a strong focus on safety, and makes sure that everyone is looking out for each other at all times.

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Never have our skills and training been put to the test as they were in Fort McMurray. Being called when the wildfire was a mere 120 hectares, our crew went in with high hopes for containment. We worked as hard as we could to try to stop its spread. With high temperatures, low humidity, and gusty winds, the fire intensity was not only extremely high, but the wildfire itself was almost impossible to predict. Right off the bat we worked a long 24 hour shift through the night trying to catch the flames. After several days of strenuous hours and work from all crews involved, I can honestly say everyone did the best they could to save as much of Fort Mac as possible. As of June 21st the wildfire has grown to an astounding 589,617 hectares.

The support for the affected communities and the first responders has been truly inspiring. With our crew back in Fort McMurray, alongside thousands of firefighters from all over the world, we are working tirelessly to finally put this wildfire to rest. It is only a matter of time before this wildfire is completely extinguished and Fort Mac is rebuilt better and stronger than ever! #ymmstrong

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