A day in the life of a BC wildfire fighter

Being a BC wildfire fighter is a tough job that will push you to your limits, yet many firefighters will tell you it’s the most meaningful and rewarding job they’ve ever had.

In a video made by the BC Wildfire Service, Reece Kowalski, a member of the Blackwater Unit Crew, says: “We usually wake up in camp around 4:30 am. We get breakfast served to us in camp, and then we hit up the warehouse and get any kind of gear or material that we might need for the day, whether that’s fuel or more hose.”

There are three items a firefighter needs to do their job well: a pump, hose, and a Pulaski, which is essentially an axe and adze in one head and is used to dig soil and chop wood.

Once the firefighters have gathered all their equipment, they jump into trucks and travel out to the fire line (areas that are cleared of vegetation to stop or slow down a fire), usually arriving on-site between 6:00 am – 6:30 am. Before they hit the ground running, the crew supervisor will conduct a briefing and relay the objectives and any safety messages for the day. At around noon, conditions start to heat up and the crew will take a pause to re-evaluate objectives. Objectives may or may not change depending on the fire’s behaviour. Firefighters must be prepared to change their plans and methods at a moment’s notice.

At around 6:00 pm or 7:00 pm, they’ll debrief as a crew and then travel back to camp, usually getting in around 9:00 pm. With the little energy they have left, they’ll shower, eat dinner, and then settle into their tents for to reset for another long day.


The Camp

The BC Wildfire says that “having a local base where informed planning and effective firefighting tactics can be implemented is crucial” in a video. It takes a big team to set up a camp and there are many people involved including camp managers, branch directors, and logistics chiefs to help guide where the camp goes, as well as a camp set up crew.

The camp functions the best when it is in a central and accessible location, where it can connect to city water, sewer, and hydro, and receive any resources and/or equipment the camp or firefighters may need. “The last thing you want to do is have to move your camp due to the fire, says Cian Carroll, Logistics Section Chief, in the BCWS’ video. “There’s a lot of thought put into how we can best supply the camp, how we can ensure that it can stay there and support the crews, and also how we can minimize that travel time to where we need to go on the fire.”

The camp provides housing for BC Wildfire staff, support staff, and contractors. Everyone resides in tents, and there are office trailers for management and administrative staff, warehouse trailers for equipment, and kitchen trailers. The camp also contains sheltered eating areas and washrooms with showers.


What it takes to become a BC wildfire fighter

Each year, the BC Wildfire Service employs approximately 1000 wildfire fighters. According to the BC Wildfire Service, to be a successful candidate, you need to “show motivation, have a relevant skill set, complete fitness tests, and attend the BC Wildfire Service New Recruit Boot Camp”.

During the spring, there are three bootcamps that hundreds of recruits from across the province. The recruits live in tents for about a week and go through intense training, testing them both physically and mentally.


Apply to be a BC Wildfire fighter

If you’re interested in applying for next year’s wildfire season, visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/wildfire-status/employment-and-contracts