‘It’s Hard Long Days but That’s Why We’re Here:’ BC Wildfire Service
Williams Lake, B.C. – Ever wonder what it’s like to work with the BC Wildfire Service during one of the most active wildfire seasons in British Columbia history?
Predictably, fire information officer Melinda Paplawski, who’s based in Williams Lake, says it starts with long work-days.
“Basically, they wake up in the morning, head out, take a bag lunch, come back, eat dinner, shower, go to sleep and do it again.”
She says they stay in camps (commonly in tents where showers are also provided) and notes the number of hours worked each day varies depending on what they’re assigned to, but says many work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day.
“But it is mandated by WorkSafeBC to ensure rest periods in between those shifts,” says Paplawski, who adds the typical work rotation is 14 days straight.
“If there’s extenuating circumstances they can ex tend it a bit but they try not to go over 14 days,” she says. “So, after 14 days there’s a mandatory rest period. Some stay in camp or they can also head up to Prince George or down to Kamloops.”
Paplawski says this is where help from out of province and country helps.
“It allows more rest time for crews and some fresh feet on the ground ready to work.”
She says duties range from working on initial attack crews to building fire guards, cleaning up trees when they’ve been knocked down and more.
“And then of course there’s all the other jobs that go on as for as planning and operations and logistics and even warehouse people making sure that everyone’s got their hoses going. It’s a big operation.”
Paplawski adds what’s made this year especially challenging is the number of interface fires (fires that threaten structures and communities) they’re battling.
“Which makes for a lot of questions regarding priorities and do you have manpower to respond to one thing,” she says. “It’s multiple fires, multiple communities, lots of rural residents as opposed to just fighting one big fire.”
She estimates there are hundreds of staff stretched throughout the region – from 100 Mile House through to Quesnel.
So, what keeps them going?
“Everyone is in it to work – working together and supportive of each other. It’s hard work and long days but that’s what we’re here for.”