Saskatchewan

Fire fighting course offering people a chance to help with northern wildfires

Donald McLeod wanted to help his friends dealing with fires in northern Saskatchewan. So he took a break from being a chef in Prince Albert to enrol in a course designed to get more firefighters on the front line.

Four day course teaching students the basics of battling fires

32 students learning the basics of fire fighting in Prince Albert. They are hoping to help battle the fires in northern Saskatchewan. (Eric Anderson/CBC)

Donald McLeod wanted to help his friends dealing with fires in northern Saskatchewan. So he took a break from being a chef in Prince Albert to enrol in a course designed to get more firefighters on the front line.

"I am kind of excited to get up there, 'cause it's a new experience. Plus, helping out the people up north is my main thing right now," said McLeod.

He is one of 32 students who graduated yesterday from a fire fighting training course set up by the Prince Albert Grand Council. 

Terry Touet came out of retirement to help train locals and evacuees in Prince Albert to fight forest fires. (Eric Anderson/CBC)

Terry Touet was one of McLeod's instructors. He was asked by the provincial government to help train Canadian soldiers when they first arrived to help with the forest fires. 

Now, Touet is teaching the basics to a new group of enthusiastic students.

"They are taking the basic fire fighting course," explained McLeod. "They will be certified as a type three firefighter after this and able to work on large fires. We're concentrating on the whole course and condensing it a little bit into making it a little bit shorter so we can get them through first."

Normally, the class would take a week to complete. But because of the need for firefighters on the front lines, the course is completed in four days.

Cheryl Morin is from Sandy Bay and hopes to be sent to the front lines soon. (Eric Anderson/CBC)

Cheryl Miller can't wait to strap on her steel-toed boots and help with the efforts. She grew up in the northern community of Sandy Bay, and saw an opportunity to help.

"I guess people could use my services. If I can go fight fires, I will help."

People want to help

It's been an overwhelming week for Jim Tsannie.

Tsannie, with the Prince Albert Grand Council's Forestry Department, was being approached daily by people who wanted to head north and help fire crews. He organized this course as a way for people to help out and give back to their communities.

When the first group of 24 students graduated last weekend, Tsannie felt a great deal of pride.

"It's very uplifting. To see this first class actually completely done and the expressions on these peoples' faces, it was just something. I had never seen such happy people in my life."

Tsannie expects the classes to continue because there are so many who want to help.  

Graduates of the course hope to join members of the Canadian forces who are now fighting fires in northern Saskatchewan. (Ryan Pilon/CBC)

That's great news according to Touet. For 36 years, he fought fires working for the Ministry of Environment. But in recent years, he's noticed the pool of available firefighters drying up.

"At one time, we used to get all of our firefighters from the north. A lot of the people that took the course their grandfather was a firefighter. Their father was a firefighter and they wanted to be a firefighter. I see we're losing a little bit of that over the years."

Touet hopes the events of the past few weeks sparks an interest in people to become firefighters. It certainly has for Donald McLeod, who is now waiting for his marching orders.

"I just want to help out those northern communities because I understand they're going through a harsh time right now. Since I'm an able body and willing to do it, might as well."

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