‘Best job in the world’: Coastal Fire Centre prepares for another busy season

'Best job in the world': Coastal Fire Centre prepares for another busy season

As unseasonably warm temperatures hit over 30°C on parts of Vancouver Island Friday, crews were busy getting ready for another wildfire season that has already begun.

Fourteen fires have already been reported in the Coastal Fire Centre.

“The majority of them small, with initial attack success,” stated fire information officer Kimberly Kelly.

The preparations include training for new firefighters.

“So March 6th was our last intake of new recruits and past firefighters, so yeah we’re doing a re-currency training with them now,” said Ben Kurtz, an initial attack crew lead, based at the Errington Fire Base.

He was leading a crew of several firefighters and Coastal Fire Centre staff during training in a Parksville forest.

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As an initial attack crew lead he’s usually first one there and then decides what to do next.

“Either we’re driving in or flying in a helicopter and from the sort of smoke we see the fire putting out, I’ll know immediately if we’ll need air tankers or extra air support, like bucket support or stuff like that,” Kurtz added.

He says he wouldn’t do anything else.

“It’s the best job in the world. The people who do it really love it.”

Lines of communication

Back at the Coastal Fire Centre headquarters, dispatchers like Karly Jensen are also bracing for a busy summer.

Initial calls reporting a fire go to a centre in Victoria before showing up on the dispatch system here.

“That’s when we go through specific processes to determine where it’s plotting, if it’s within a fire department, and then from there we pass that information on to the operations section,” said Jensen.

“It gets very busy in here,” she said. “Sometimes hours go by and you don’t even know it.”

It all works like a well-oiled machine because it has to.

Lives and property could be at risk every time a fire breaks out, and Jeff Belcher is ultimately responsible for all of it.

“My role is to coordinate all aspects of wildfire response within the Coastal Fire Centre,” he told CHEK News.

He says the safety of his crews and the public is always the number one priority, adding it takes a large cast to make it all work.

“We often see the crews on TV and on the sides of the road fighting fires, but there’s a lot of other support staff that go into running an effective operation,” Belcher said. “So it is busy, but we have the structure in place with the people with the right training to respond.”

The Cameron Bluffs blaze at Cameron lake last summer was the most the disruptive fire on the Island in recent memory, shutting down Highway 4 for weeks.

Now, conditions are drying out once again.

“We were in a low fire danger rating but as we see these temperatures rise in these drying conditions, we are expecting to move into a moderate and potentially high in some areas fire danger rating,” Kelly said.

SEE ALSO: Start of wildfire season better than last year, but risk is high as drought continues

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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