Kevin Cochrane of BC Wildfire Services looks on as firefighters practice their hovering heli-exit strategies. Sarah Gawdin/Hope Standard

VIDEO: Behind the scenes of wildfire training ahead of B.C’s busiest season

Practicing exiting a hovering aircraft helps ensure firefighters can attend any fire site

It was as though they were performing a series of dance moves—each foot moving slightly behind or beside the other deliberately—however, in this case, missing a step didn’t mean missing a beat, it meant falling out of a helicopter into a wildfire.

Okay, not a real fire. But the helicopter was real enough as members from B.C. Wildfire Services practiced their hover-exit maneuvers at the Hope airport Tuesday afternoon.

Unlike structure fires, or fires within populated areas, forest fires don’t always have roads that can deliver firefighters to an active burn, so a helicopter is used to literally drop them where they need to be.

READ MORE: Unusually dry March leads to dozens of grass fires in B.C.

“If the terrain is very difficult and we can’t find a flat spot to actually land the helicopter … we use the hover-exit technique to get a crew on the ground to a fire,” explained Brian Davis, crew leader for the Initial Attack team.

First responders of a sort, Davis says it’s the Initial Attack team who’s first contacted to report on the conditions of the fire and report back to the fire centre on whether they can contain it themselves or will need more assistance. So it’s important they’re delivered to fire sites quickly and safely.

The annual training is mandatory because it keeps the firefighters up-to-date and practicing because, as it’s used as a last resort, the technique isn’t used every year. However, in his seventh season with B.C. Wildfire Services, Davis says the heli-exit experience can be a nerve-wracking one for beginners.

“A lot of times these guys haven’t even flown in a helicopter and they’re being asked to now step out of one that’s hovering.”

Yet it’s not only the newbies who feel nervous as they step out of a hovering helicopter. “There’s still a rush for sure—that’s why I love the job. That initial rush you get when you’re flying out to the fire trying to figure out what to do.”

And with record low precipitation levels in March, and reports of wildfires already coming in, the training couldn’t come at a better time.

But “it’s impossible to really predict how many fires we’re going to get—I really have no idea,” continued Davis, who spends his winters living in the Fraser Valley and summers fighting fires across the province. “You just have to take them as they come.”

As of April 1, there were are 28 wildfires larger than 0.009 hectares burning in various locations around the province. In 2017, B.C. experienced its worst wildfire season on record—with 2018 being the second worst—nearly $570 million was spent trying to suppress fires that burned across 1.2 million hectares of land, and displaced 65,000 people.


 

@SarahGawdin on Twitter
SarahGawdin on Instagram
Sarah.Gawdin@HopeStandard.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jumbo Valley to be protected, ending decades-long dispute over proposed ski resort

Development rights permanently retired for site of proposed year-round ski resort west of Invermere

Trust delivers social grants, several in Trail and Rossland

Columbia Basin Trust supports 31 projects with $680,000 in social grants

FedEx distribution centre coming to Castlegar

Development permit for ground facility before council next week.

Kootenay teams heading for curling provincials

Team Buchy and Team Nichols won the senior playdowns.

Kids across Canada more at risk of hospitalization from flu this season: doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam said influenza B does not usually peak until February or later

Closed mills, housing surge support a positive forecast for lumber industries

B.C. lumber producers have closed mills accounting for 18% of province’s capacity, RBC report says

Good Samaritan pays part of rent for B.C. woman facing eviction in can-collecting dispute

Zora Hlevnjak, 76, supplements her pension by collecting cans and receiving public donations

Kelowna’s ‘Baby Mary’ finds biological parents after more than 30 years

Geneologist and DNA test helped her connect with her biological parents

Kelowna hotel to award couples for baby-making with Nooner deal

The deal includes a free stay every Valentine’s Day for the next 18 years

On the job hunt with Nelson’s Make A Change Canada

The employment charity is organizing next week’s Kootenay Patricks, Montreal Canadiens game

‘Scariest boat ride of my life’: Passengers trapped by ice on rocky B.C. ferry sailing

The Nimpkish docked in Bella Coola on Jan.12 coated in a thick layer of ice

B.C. pair ordered to pay $55,000 for oil tank discovered four years after selling home

Judge says defendants breached contract, despite being unaware of tank until basement flooded

Canada to give $25,000 to families of each Canadian who died in Iran plane crash

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also made it clear that Canada still expects Iran to compensate victims

Most Read