Independent firefighters join government crews on fire line

As officials continue to report new and growing wildfires across the province, independent contractors for wildfire fighters are working to get more people out on the fire line.

Some are from the remote communities where wildfires are raging

In the off season, Aaron Duczak and his team at Interior Timber Falling train new firefighters to support government crews in the hot, dry summer months. ((Noel Hendrickson/Coming Through Fire: The WIldland Firefighter Experience)

As officials continue to report new and growing wildfires across the province, independent contractors for wildfire fighters are working to get more people out on the fire line.

Aaron Duczak runs Interior Timber Falling, a business under contract with BC Wildfire Service and the provincial government to recruit experienced personnel and train new firefighters for the wildfire season.

"Pretty much the entire winter is spent just training up different areas, going into employment centres, First Nations bands and training up as many people as we can," he told Radio West guest host Audrey McKinnon.

Right now, there are about 1,200 independently contracted personnel participating in the firefighting efforts, according B.C.'s chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek, including heavy equipment operators, tree fellers, danger-tree assessors, and more.

He said there are different levels of personnel categorized based on their level of training and capability.

Government fire crews are considered "Type 1,"  and are the highest trained with the most experience.

"Type 2" fire crews are part of the independently contracted workers, but are trained and equipped to a higher level. Skrepnek said there is a crew of about 100 in this category now working on the line.

And "Type 3" are the least experienced beginner crews. They require a three-day mandatory training session followed by inspection and certification before they're sent to the fire line, he said.

Duczak said some of the people they train are from the remote communities where fires are raging.

When wildfires peaked last year in early July, four of the first crew of 20 he sent out had lost homes earlier that day, he said.

"We are definitely in a position where we're sending out people to protect their own area… There's a lot more emotionality involved when you're trying to protect your own property," Duczak said.

"It's a very unique situation."

He said training people who have been personally affected by wildfire empowers communities by giving them the tools to contribute in the fight.

"With these remote communities, people want to… have the necessary tools to combat situations like that on their own, on their own land and their own territory."

"You get years like this, especially last year, where the government can only handle so much. We're just here to support them and their efforts."

To hear the full interview listen to media below:

As officials continue to report new and growing wildfires across the province independent contractors for wildfire fighters are working to get more people out on the fireline. 9:58

With files from Radio West