Nova Scotia

DNR forest fire ground crew disbanded

The Helitack unit, used to fight forest fires from the ground, has been disbanded by the provincial Department of Natural Resources.
The Helitack unit, which assists choppers during forest fighters, has been disbanded. (CBC)

The Helitack unit, used to fight forest fires from the ground, has been disbanded by the provincial Department of Natural Resources.

There are five helicopters stationed in Shubenacadie. During a forest fire, while those choppers work from the air, the Helitack crew of five worked on the ground.

But according to the department, trained firefighters should be spread around the region.

"It's taking your resource and not using it very well in our view, and making it better," said Walter Fanning, director for DNR Forest Protection.

The department said because of the amount of rain in Nova Scotia last year, the Helitack crew wasn't often needed.

The Helitack crewmembers were trained to be first responders on the ground, but the municipal volunteer crews are usually there first, according to Fanning.

"Even taking a crew in a helicopter and sending them to Margaree or sending them to Lawrencetown.  We're now getting ground crews there ourselves, and the volunteers — I've got to give them a lot of credit for how they help — they're usually there first now," Fanning said.

Rod Nielsen, Brookfield's fire chief, says the Helitack crew can access areas in which his crew can't always reach. (CBC)

The fire chief at the Brookfield Fire Department said it's a risky move.

Rod Nielsen said though local fire crews usually do get to fires first, they sometimes can't get as close as Helitack crews arriving by helicopter.

"[If there is] a lightning strike or somewhere in a camp, deep in the woods or in a remote lake — we have very limited access or availability to get to the fire," Nielsen said.

Volunteers at his station are hard to come by, he said, and now he thinks the volunteers that do exist are being asked to do too much.

"Here we are again reducing service at the provincial level and putting more load on our volunteers and our municipal departments," Nielsen said. "Again, without really any real consultations."

The Helitack crew will be reassigned to other stations.