The Season So Far: Fitness to FireSmarting

To work as a wildland firefighter in Canada you must complete a yearly fitness test called the WFX-Fit test. It’s a time-sensitive test created to assess your endurance and ability to carry heavy weights over difficult terrain. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the job, the test favours the tall and those of us who are small in stature must train extremely hard to pass it.

I spent my winter travelling and eating delicious Japanese food, therefore my endurance had dropped drastically. To build it back up in time for the fitness test, I started training two months in advance of my commencement day. This meant you could always find me in the gym weight training or running stairs with a 60-pound vest. Although the workouts were exhausting, the hardest part was trying to balance training with university and a part-time job.

Mary (3)

Arriving back in Grande Prairie after the winter break was a huge relief. The wildfire season was finally here. All those months stuck cooped up in a lecture hall learning about financial accounting and the endless hours I spent studying in a windowless building had really started getting to me. It was mentally exhausting trying to stay focused on less than exciting material when all I wanted was to be fighting wildfires.

Seeing my crew for the first time in months was incredible. It was as if the winter break had never happened. That just goes to show the friendships you build in this job are lasting. We see everyone at their best and their worst but we all work together to get through it. Whether it’s working on a pump past the point of exhaustion because you can’t figure out why it won’t start, trekking through muskeg (which is, in fact, HORRIBLE), or being stuck in the same truck with the same people for an entire season, they become your second family and I am so excited to be back.

Mary (5)

It has been another slow season for fire activity in Grande Prairie this year. To keep busy, our crew has been focusing on district projects. This could include base maintenance (mowing grass), FireSmarting parts of forests to help reduce potential fire spread, log cabin maintenance (sanding/painting) or making bear fences to protect lookout towers.

The wildfires we have responded to have been very small. One was a ‘one tree wonder’ (single tree hit by lightning) in a farmer’s field. We cut down the dangerous tree while a group of curious cows watched, dancing and jumping every time the chainsaw was revved.

The second fire was slightly larger and was initially actioned by one of our Helitackcrews. It was crowning upon their arrival but was quickly subdued by airtankers. By the time my unit crew got there, there was hardly any flame to put out so our job was to check for hot spots or smokes and making sure they were out.

That sounds easy enough, except there was a frustrating amount of mud. The number of times I lost my boots, leaving me stuck knee deep in the mud (in my socks), was insane.

Mary (4)

It’s funny how crew morale can skyrocket from an export. We were being sent to a fire base located just outside of Calgary for project work. Our job was to create a fuel break in the thick forest of Kananaskis Country to protect nearby communities. Work included cutting down and clearing dead trees, clearing little shrubs and making sure there were no ladder fuels that could potentially help fire spread.

Check back later this wildfire season for more from the Grande Prairie Unit Crew!


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