Summer of Wildfires: Memories of Boot Camp

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Summer of Wildfires: Memories of Boot Camp

By: Adam Brayford
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Meet Adam Brayford, a Communication major and previous Online Community Host writer! For his third co-op term, Adam has traveled into the BC Kootenays to work for the BC Forest Service as a Wildfire Information Officer. A city boy at heart, Adam has certainly felt the culture shock of moving from the hustle and bustle of Metro Vancouver and over to the lush nature of Castlegar. However, he tells us that he’s loving the different lifestyle and beautiful atmosphere. Although his position mostly consists of communication with BC’s media outlets regarding wildfire updates, Adam also elected to experience a week of firefighter boot camp! When asked as to why he signed up, Adam stated that “You only live once!” Read on to learn more about his first week’s adventures.

Monday, May 5th, '08

I awake at 06:00 hours to the sound of my cell phone alarm, a sound I will not hear again for some time. It takes me a moment to recognize my surroundings as the early morning sun pours through the window. Only six short hours prior did I settle into what would be my summer home at the residences of Selkirk College in Castlegar, BC. After verifying the contents of my camping bag one last time, I climb into my car well before my 08:00 start time and set off to find my new place of work. A minute and a half later, I arrive at the Southeast Fire Centre. Apparently, Castlegar is not as large a town as I had envisioned.

An hour later, after a whirlwind orientation to various sections of the command office, I take to the road with my new boss. Destination: Merritt Boot Camp. And so, after five hours of driving which finds my boss explaining to her new disciple the difference between an elk and a deer, a gopher and a squirrel, - "You are a city boy, aren't you?" she questions jokingly, - we arrive at our base for the week. Here, I am to learn the tricks of the trade alongside firefighter recruits. Stepping down onto the soft earth, it does not take long to realize that I am abysmally overdressed. I hastily change into jeans and set up my cot.

I am presented with earplugs to stifle the early morning sounds of cows. This is going to be quite the week.

Tuesday, May 6th, '08

Wake up call: 06:00 hours - time for Fitness Training, my chance to prove that I am more than a highfalutin bookworm with a charming weakness for chocolate and indeed, food in general. Hence, with toque in place and socks pulled high, I head out of the tent alongside the firefighters into the biting cold morning air.

Wednesday, May 7th, '08

The day that I will remember as the day that I drank my first five cups of coffee and formed a steadfast, lifelong relationship with the beverage. Wake up call: 06:30 hours. Every muscle in my body seems to strain as I pull myself upright in my cot. I shiver as I recall yesterday's jogging, sprinting, pushups, crab-walking and side planks, all punctuated by the early morn' scent of cows. My reminiscing is cut short as I clamber to join the masses heading out for more self-elected masochism. Today, we strap 45 lb packs to our backs and hike to a nearby mountain which, naturally, we climb. Thoughts of mayday calls learned the previous day in Crisis Communication enter my mind as we reach the top. But before we head down, it is time to engage in a high altitude core workout. As I lower myself to the ground I think of the sausages and bacon waiting below.

After the usual massive breakfast, it is time to return to the studies we have engaged in all week. On average, along with the rest of the small group of Fire Information Officers at firefighter boot camp, I take part in four hours of morning classes, followed by six hours of afternoon / evening classes after lunch. By the end of the week, my addiction to coffee will be such that I may have to learn to make it myself. Nevertheless, I am now armed with a thorough grounding in fire weather, basic firefighting techniques, air tanker safety, tree types, as well as a volley of specialized courses on media relations.

Thursday, May 8th, '08

By now, my reputation for turning firefighter boot camp into a veritable fat camp precedes me. Personally, I see nothing wrong with saying yes to every meal option, plus second servings and the occasional second dessert. It would be a shame to let all that glorious catering go to waste. I sit down with my fellow Information Officers for a final breakfast, my portion of the table overflowing as usual with the various delicacies du jour. All of us a little tired but keen, we prepare ourselves for one final immersion in our training.

When the workday is done, the Information Officers celebrate by taking a walk in the surrounding areas of Merritt. By now, most of the firefighters - the welcoming crowd that they were - have returned home. And so, kicking pebbles as we promenade the gravel stretch, we do what any group of displaced urbanites would do, faced with boundless cascades of mountains and grass fields: we find a group of calves and watch them graze, at times, for amusement, imitating the sounds that the endearing animals make. Of course, when the thirty or so calves turn toward us and start cantering with their collective hooves creating a resounding roar, the urbanites can be heard shrieking in terror as they run back to the safety of boot camp.

Not our proudest moment.

Friday, May 9th, '08

On the way home - my fellow Fire Information Officer trainees having departed for their bases in various corners of the province - there is cause to be proud. I have made it through boot camp with a new volume of knowledge and only a millimetre's expansion of the stomach. My new supervisor and I chat away the hours; her teaching me the names of various indigenous creatures along the way. Amid all this learning, I manage to point out to her what the insignia DG represents on the very expensive pair of sunglasses she bought during one of her few trips to Vancouver. And so, we bond as she teaches me "red-tailed hawk" and I teach her "dolce and gabbana."

It will be quite the summer, indeed.

Photo Gallery

Photo Credit Karlie Dawn Shaughnessy, BC Forest Service

Posted on December 17, 2010