Giving Wildland Firefighting a Try

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Rudy: The first time I ever saw someone with a piss pack

Up until this summer, as far as I knew, Wildland firefighting was an all in, full-time summer position. It is something that has interested me since living up in Northern Ontario (which is very much a wildfire environment) and my first time seeing a ranger with a piss-pack, 8 years ago, back when I was a park ranger. But I had a full time, year-round job (or three) and couldn’t exactly take 4 months off to go work wildland. Nonetheless, I was fascinated.

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When I was given the opportunity to do my NFPA 1051 Wildland Firefighter course through my fire hall, I jumped at it. I was fascinated by the tactics that go along with a Wildland/Urban Interface and the fire behavior of wildfires had me hooked.  Shortly after the course, our fire department worked with RCMP, Alberta Wildfire and a number of other agencies to run a full-scale mock wildfire exercise in our valley. The exercise was such an incredible experience that it stuck with me.

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I have a large number of friends who work a variety of jobs under the Alberta Wildland job title; Jordan, who repels out of helicopters, Johnny (who I’m pretty sure mostly just drinks) and Zach who is on a unit crew, to name a few. Hearing these guys talk about their job, hearing the passion that they have for it, had me hooked. But there was still that whole disappearing for a season thing that I just couldn’t do…

21686397_10214179524111790_8319898552321689680_nBut then… I found out that there was such a thing as Wildland Contractors. Finding out was a complete accident. I happened to meet the owner of one such company at a BBQ over the summer, right as his company was looking to expand operations and hire more firefighters with wildland certs. I put in a resume, and next thing I knew, I was a team member on an engine crew. I was lucky enough to work a number of shifts with the Wildland company and got some experience with wildfires as well as well as some pretty spectacular ‘office’ views. I also learned that prairie dogs will steal your lunch if you look away for 10 seconds…

Here are some photos from my brief foray into wildland firefighting:

And while I would never wish a wildfire on anyone, I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to go back to wildland firefighting next season!

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