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

PHOTOS: Families, spectators wave goodbye to Navy Task Force from Victoria shorelines

HCMS Winnipeg and HCMS Regina sailing to Hawaiian training exercise, further deployments

COVID-inspired RV sales soaring on West Shore and beyond

Health restrictions, recommendations keep Vancouver Island vacationers closer to home

UPDATE: Pedestrian injured in collision on Hillside Avenue

Traffic impacted between Douglas and Blanshard streets

371 British Columbians battling COVID-19, health officials confirm

Thursday (Aug. 6) saw a second straight day of nearly 50 new confirmed cases

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Aug. 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Should it be mandatory to wear masks when out in public?

B.C. is witnessing an alarming rise in the number of cases of… Continue reading

Cowichan RCMP use spike belts to end car chase — man in custody

The driver was arrested at the scene a short distance from his vehicle

COVID-19 tests come back negative for remote First Nation

“There are no suspected cases in the community at this time.”

Visitors and non-residents entering closed remote B.C. First Nation’s territories

With limited resources, they say they don’t have any authority or power to enforce the closures

UBC loses appeal on Fisheries Act convictions

BC Supreme Court upholds order to pay $1.55-million fine

Masks to be mandatory on BC Transit, TransLink starting Aug. 24

Both BC Transit and TransLink made the announcement in separate press releases on Thursday

Acclaimed B.C. actor Brent Carver passes away

Carver, one of Canada’s greatest actors with a career spanning 40 years, passed away at home in Cranbrook

Most Read