Twenty local firefighters refreshed their wildland fire training at the Fire Department last Thursday.
B.C. Forest Protection Officer Robert Krause and Forest Protection Technician Brent Martin led the fire crew through the annually-required, two-hour reassertion of the Level One Wildland Firefighter course.
The first hour was a training exercise, where Krause had four-person groups discuss step by step how they would deal with the fire scenario that Krause faced in spring 2012 at the Burns Lake Pinnacle Pellet.
Then Krause led the crew through safety training for wildland firefighting.
“The overriding message for [fighting wildland fires] is remember that it’s only trees. It’s not worth us putting ourselves in harms way,” said Krause.
Krause says a firefighter’s top priorities are their personal protective equipment and their safety and he stressed the importance of situational awareness.
If we have someone hurt from a wildland fire in this area, it’s probably going to be from a grass fire or a falling tree, Krause said.
He gave four common denominators involved in firefighter deaths that were laid out by fire researcher Carl Wilson in 1977.
(1) They were small fires or quiet sections of big fires where something changed suddenly that the firefighters weren’t prepared for because they didn’t have situational awareness or didn’t follow the basic safety guidelines, Krause said.
(2) They happened in light fuels, such as the cured grass along Highway 16.
Krause said structural firefighters often try a frontal assault against a fire, without being aware that they are standing in unburned fuel.
(3) There was an unexpected shift in wind speed or direction.
(4) A fire suddenly runs up a hill.
Always try to work from below a fire, and be very careful when fighting from the top down, because fire always moves uphill, said Krause.
Besides grass fires, the other big hazard in this area is danger trees, he said.
Danger trees are those with more than half of the tree stem damaged, more than half of the root damaged, or with loose, hung up limbs or tops, or newly damaged trees that could fall at any time.
Krause said the Fire Department can call in fallers from the B.C. Forest Service to deal with danger trees, and suggested a policy for the Houston Fire Department to adopt about how to safely work around danger trees.
In B.C. firefighters use one acronym to remember wildland fire safety rules: LACES (lookouts, anchor points, communication, escape routes and safety zones).
A lookout needs to be able to see the fire, they need to be mobile or in the air, or else you need multiple lookouts, said Krause.
He added that a lookout needs to be someone with experience who knows fire behaviour and what to look for.
Anchor points are where the crews are based and where they start fighting from, and it needs to be where the fire can’t get behind and flank a crew, Krause said.
Communication includes having good hardware, knowing the radio frequency to go on, and making sure there is understanding of instructions.
“I have a four year old grand daughter who is almost a little bit like a tasmanian devil and the only way to make sure you know she is paying attention to you is to grab her by both sides of her cheeks and say, ‘Did you hear what I said? What did I say?’ Because otherwise, forget it. And it’s no different with fire crews,” said Krause.
An officer needs to get feedback from crews that they understand their task, he said.
Escape routes are where crews go if things go bad, preferrably moving downhill and back to the anchor point.
Safety zones are areas that are safe for crews to pull back to and regroup if things go wrong, Krause said.
The B.C. Forest Service can be called into the municipality to help with fires if needed, because they are a provincial organization and their crews are not bound to an area, said Krause.
“We are very fortunate in the Northwest the way crews are laid out,” said Martin.
There are 20-man crews in both Telkwa and Burns Lake who can help out with fires in this area, he added.
Krause says that when there’s high fire risk, they have a crew and pilot at the helicopter base with gear loaded, so they can head out within five minutes of a call.
Now, should a wildland fire get out of control, Houston’s fire crew is ready with their safety training fresh on their minds.