Firefighter in the Field: From Firetack to Helitack
By: Josh Cardinal
I would like to start out with a little background about myself: I am a 28-year-old First Nation member from Saddle Lake, and I am working out of the Lac La Biche Forest Area. This is my fifth year firefighting, but my first year working on a Helitack crew (which I’m enjoying so much already). I started working in Firetack in 2012 and caught the fire bug, as some call it, right away.
Since then, I had always wanted to work in Helitack and finally received my chance in January. Let me tell you, I was very, very nervous about the WFX (Wildland Firefighter Exchange) fitness test. When I arrived at the Expo Centre in Edmonton, I overheard someone say “We’ve only had two people puke today,” and that made me super nervous – so nervous that I almost threw up twice before I was able to take my blood pressure test! Thankfully, there were a lot of people there to help calm me and many others down. I’d be lying if I said that was the most difficult part of the application process because I was so much more nervous in the interview. Once again, the wonderful people there had to calm me down. The nerves were getting the best of me because I wanted this job so badly. Once I received the call and was told that I was accepted, I was almost in shock. I could not believe what I had just heard: “Lac La Biche would like to take you on as an employee in Helitack.” I was so beyond excited that I could not resist the urge to dance (just kidding!). I was very relieved to know that after many years, I now had a chance to work with some of the elite in forestry. Before I could get to work though, like everyone else, I had to go through training in Hinton or “members” as some call it.
Allow me to say that I had one of the best times of my life in training at the Hinton Training Centre. Forty-one strangers coming together for ten days seemed intimidating to me, but the instructors and mentors pushed and encouraged us every day. The instructors and mentors were unbelievably knowledgeable, as well as hilarious and stern in their push for us to be professional and become a team. “Be prepared or be tough,” is what we would hear once in a while. I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure there were a few that could relate to me, for I was not prepared to be up for 6 a.m. fitness every morning. Again, the mentors and instructors pushed us through the tough times, and as we started to come together as a group, we would push each other more and more each day.
Once we banded together, the field labs, quizzes, exams and fitness became a lot less difficult for everyone because we would constantly encourage one another to keep pushing or to challenge themselves. Along with becoming a team, great friendships were built. From being complete strangers to close friends, I never would have thought one could come away with such feelings of gratitude for meeting such amazing individuals. We were quite a diverse group – people from the east coast to people from out of country and people who were engineers or still finishing their degrees. There were people from all walks of life coming together.
The treatment we received at the training centre was unbelievable. Being able to work on field labs out by the mountains was a beautiful experience. The food was amazing and the kindness shown from the instructors was all one could ask for in this type of work. I hope your wildfire season is full of lots of laughs and please be safe out there. I would like to thank and congratulate everyone for finishing the training, even though at times it was quite difficult. Thanks for the memories, friends, and congratulations on becoming an elite type one Helitack member.