Rolling hoses. (BC Wildfire Service)

Revelstoke’s Columbia Fire Centre starts up their Junior Fire Crew Member program

The program trains senior high school students for an opportunity to be junior wildfire firefighters

Sitting in the library of the Revelstoke Secondary School on a Thursday evening in November, 12 parents and their children listened to what it will be like for the chosen three students who prove their knowledge, demonstrate their fitness, and survive the job interview to be a BC Wildfire Service’s Junior Fire Crew Member.

The Junior Fire Crew Member Program (JFCM) was started in 1997 at the Prince George Fire Centre in association with the local school district and the BC Ministry of Forests. The idea was to introduce young people to working with BC Wildfire Services, giving them a job for the summer, experience for school, and a taste for what a career as a firefighter might look like. Quintin Balfour, Senior Wildfire Officer Operations, brought the program to Revelstoke in 2017, where Amy Collins made it a success.

Francesco Morrone, a JFCM over the past summer, spoke highly of the program.

“I’m gonna go back. It’s a really fun job, and you work with really great people,” said Morrone.

Morrone captured this photo at a fire near Kaslo in August. (Francesco Morrone)

Stefan Hood, Wildfire Technician at Southeast Fire Centre, explained how the program’s schedule helps the applicants progress and get credits for school.

“It’s part of the youth employment program. So, every 25 hours they get one credit towards graduation. So, our program is based on 50 hours or two credits,” said Hood.

Throughout the program, the trainees receive first aid training and their S-100 level firefighter certification, which gives the students who don’t make the cut the qualifications to apply for a private firefighting outfit.

One of the toughest aspects of the job, and the testing to be picked for the job, is fitness. JFCM have to pass a fitness test that is nationally regulated called the WFX-FIT fitness test. The test is as daunting as its title and includes lugging backpacks that weigh over 55 lbs up and over sets of stairs, hauling a sled over a given distance, and carrying around weight in front of their body. For each stage, they’re given a set number of repetitions, ranging from 25–65, which they have to complete in under 18 minutes.

Morrone captured this photo at a fire near Kaslo in August. (Francesco Morrone)

Morrone said that although he did a lot of the training on his own in the early stages, by the spring he was joining in on the base workouts with the rest of the crew.

“They definitely helped you out there and [get] you prepared for what you needed to do,” said Morrone.

Hood said the fitness test is vital in ensuring the applicants are ready for the job.

“Regardless of everything else, like to get a job with us, anybody in the job would have to pass that fitness test. So, we have to make sure they can do that,” said Hood.

While the fitness is important, and candidates compete against one another, they are also being evaluated on their teamwork.

Pump set up. (BC Wildfire Service)

“Fitness is not the end all be all. Teamwork and cooperation, and just general aptitude,” said Samuel Rousselle, BC Wildfire Services Wildfire Assistant.

Although candidates compete against one another for the limited positions available, Hood and Rouselle said they are also always under evaluation for their ability to work with others.

The program is designed to be a worthwhile experience for everyone; whether they’re picked for the position or not. Part of the hiring process includes writing a letter that explains why they’re interested, submitting a resumé, and completing an interview with a panel of three.

This fire was near Invermere in September. (Francesco Morrone)

“They’re getting life skills out of this training as well,” said Hood.

Some JFCM turn the program into a career for themselves, like Shey Townsley. Townsley was a JFCM straight out of high school, but reapplied, was hired, and has continued his career. He talked about what he enjoyed about the program.

“Lots of diversity, and really amazing views, and always working with different people, and I got to meet a lot of really inspiring people as a 17-year-old,” said Townsley.

Back in the library, the benefits Townsley discussed were also discussed, but Hood and Rousselle also brought up one of the biggest attractions to the job: helicopter rides.

Pump set up. (BC Wildfire Service)

At the mention of helicopters, the room buzzed as the students turned, smiling giddily at their parents.

The parents listened closely as Hood and Rousselle also explained what the JFCM program does to ensure student safety. The parents must have been happy with what they heard because when the question period arrived, no one questioned the safety of the program.

This fire was near Invermere in September. (Francesco Morrone)

It will be a long journey for the students aiming to become JFCM with BC Wildfire Services, but the group seemed excited and determined. As the meeting came to a close, students headed to the back of the library where sample equipment was laid out for them to inspect. They took turns lifting the equipment, preparing for the job they hope to have in the spring.

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Heli pad dig. (BC Wildfire Service)

(BC Wildfire Service)