Firefighters in the Field: Back Into Firefighting
Coming back to wildland firefighting after one and a half years off was the easiest decision ever. Deciding to leave in the first place, not so much. I decided to take a wildfire season off to pursue something related to my degree, as some of my other interests are in people and social justice. I worked in Edmonton’s inner city helping folks experiencing homelessness find housing. It was an intense experience and I felt it was weirdly similar to firefighting, though I did not expect it to be. It was a lot of multitasking and trying to meet objectives quickly. The reasons for needing to move quickly were very different however, as one circumstance is to contain a spreading wildfire, and another is finding a safe and comfortable place for a person to call home.
While I was working in Edmonton in the summer of 2017, I would wake up to hazy skies and the smell of smoke coming in from the BC wildfires. I couldn’t help but feel a huge pull to get back into wildland firefighting again. I know for some folks that smoke can certainly ruin their day. For me it was representative of the amazing adventures I had working in wildfire and ultimately sparked my excitement to get back into it! I learned a lot from my experience in the inner city and saw firsthand the resiliency and compassion of the human spirit, even in the face of great adversity. Though I really miss the community there, I am beyond ecstatic to have started my sixth year as a Helitack Leader out of the Lac La Biche Forest Area and even more excited to be able to share this adventure with you all.
I started out the year at the Hinton Training Centre helping to train the new members or “rookies” as we like to call them. They were all so eager and hardworking. They were also so genuinely excited about everything wildfire related. That kind of excitement was infectious and brought me back to my first year—remembering my first helicopter ride, my first wildfire, and how awesome it was to be a part of the Alberta Wildfire team for the first time. Following my stay at the Hinton Training Centre I had a few days off before things got busy again.
The first few days back in the Lac La Biche Forest Area saw nineteen starts after dry lightning went through the area. As you can probably imagine, we were really busy here. Although a few of the wildfires grew to be quite large (because of the hot and dry conditions), we did have some victories too! My crew, along with the help of another Lac La Biche Helitack crew, three helicopters, and airtankers, we successfully kept one of our fires at 0.9 hectares and put an “extinguished” on it two days later!
One of my favorite parts of the job is seeing everyone work as a team—from our amazing eagle-eyed lookout observers, to the smooth talking dispatchers who keep us well informed, all the way to the cooks who keep the firefighters fed! Everyone has an integral role to play to keep our forests protected, and I’m so happy to be a part of that.
That was our first wildfire as a crew. It’s always exciting to see how a crew will work together, especially when things get tough. When the bugs are so bad you give up trying to swat them away, or when the “skeg” (muskeg) is well beyond your knees and every step leaves you wetter than the last. The photo below is a funny example of just that. I tried to take a photo of our awesome crew on a self-timer, which was ten seconds long. In those ten seconds, I had to run over to them and get ready for the picture. Not everything goes to plan however, and as I was running towards them I slipped and landed straight into a massive muskeg “sink hole”. It didn’t hurt at all but it reminds me of a simple message as I go through this wildfire season: nothing beats crushing wildfires with your best buddies and having a funny photo to remember it by. Here’s to many more adventures and memories as we work throughout the summer!
Until next time!
Well written Emma. Enjoy your summer and welcome back to the bush girl!