PEI will have officials ready to fight forest fires after 10 days of training

About 70 provincial officials have signed up to become wildfire fighters as part of the provincial government’s plan to better prepare Prince Edward Island for future fire seasons.

If all complete the training, the contingent of provincial firefighters on the island will more than quadruple.

“It’s so exciting that we have such a great response,” said Steven Myers, provincial minister of environment, energy and climate change. “It’s just going to take us a little longer to get every one of them certified.”

The province had planned to train everyone this fall, but a second cohort will now be trained in 2024, Myers said.

Wildfires are not common on Prince Edward Island, but a wildfire burned three hectares of land at The Links in Crowbush Cove in May. Three years earlier, one had broken out near Murray River in southeastern Prince Edward Island.

Firefighters arrive at the Links at Crowbush Cove property to battle a blaze on May 1 this year. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

As fires swept through parts of Nova Scotia this spring, the government of Prince Edward Island invited all interested personnel to apply for the training program. At the time, he said the plan was to ‘build local community protection and support capacity’, but Myers said it also facilitated rapid response to fires not just at home, but elsewhere in the country. Canada.

You must have helicopter training – to jump out of a helicopter.— Steven Myers, Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action

“When we train civil servants to do the job, we don’t have to wonder how they are going to be paid, they can’t quit their jobs, can they have free time. When they work for us, the process will be much more transparent.”

The Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Action said training preference would be given to volunteer staff who are members of volunteer fire departments, Indigenous people or members of a racialized group.

A spokesperson said volunteer firefighters already know how wildfires spread and various candidates have been targeted “to help increase the diversity of the wildland firefighter community in Canada.”

Demanding training regimen

Not everyone who applied for this opportunity will end up being trained, the minister said. The position requires applicants to be in good physical condition.

“One of the components that we have to do is helicopter training. [If] you’re going to be fighting fires in most jurisdictions, you have to have helicopter training — to jump out of a helicopter on the spot, while it’s running,” Myers said. “You must be able to do whatever is necessary.

A helicopter is pictured in the distance in an orange sky above a line of trees.
A helicopter flies over a forest fire in Nova Scotia. Part of the training for public servants in PEI. who have signed up for forest firefighter training includes jumping from an active helicopter. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Successful applicants will receive 10 days of training from government personnel with assistance from the Emergency Measures Organization. Trainees will be mentored by experienced firefighters when faced with real-life scenarios.

“As each individual demonstrates the ability to operate in more complex situations, they will be given a greater level of responsibility and training,” the provincial spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

The Ontario government hires private companies to train its wildland firefighters. It’s a five-day course, said Dave Cowan, a trainer with Fire1, a group that provides wildland firefighter training in North Bay.

“It’s considered basic training, just to prepare them, and then the training continues for the rest of their careers,” Cowan said. “We could give them 5-10% of their training that they’re going to have and then it just goes on and on from there.”

Holland College offers vocational training

Professional firefighters certified through Holland College’s PEI Firefighter Training Center program complete a 22-week program. He teaches them how to deal with house fires, vehicle fires and how to use tools like the Jaws of Life. It also includes eight weeks of on-the-job training.

Cowan says professional firefighting primarily deals with structural fires and that is a “very, very different” job from wildland firefighting.

Structural firefighting, they deal with chemicals and all sorts of other hazards. We don’t use that stuff. We are dealing outside, in the forest.—Dave Cowan

“Structural firefighting, they deal with chemicals and all kinds of other hazards,” he said, including the danger of falling structures and situations that require self-contained breathing apparatus.

“We don’t use that stuff. We’re dealing outside, in the forest.”

PEI Civil Training is part of a $550,000 fire prevention program announced in Budget 2023. It also includes new equipment for volunteer firefighters and drones to better track fire spread and hot spots.

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