Members of the McBride District Fire Department debrief after a surprise drill. The drill required the crew to set up and activate the system to protect both buildings in Koeneman Park within a half hour. Fire Chief David Hruby was thrilled with the outcome of this first session and predicted that if given the opportunity to do another drill in the near future, the crew would cut their time down considerably. /ANDREA ARNOLD

By Andrea Arnold

On Sunday September 26, 2021 members of the McBride District Fire Department, along with Valemount’s fire chief, attended a training session for the equipment used to protect structures threatened by wildfire.

McBride Fire Chief David Hruby was very pleased with the outcome of the one day of training.

“If we needed the equipment and a trailer was available, our crew would be able to operate it,” he said.
The equipment for the training was provided by the Ferndale/Tabor department.

Ferndale/Tabor Fire Chief Bryant Kemble held a classroom session for the group before heading to Gaglardi Park just outside of McBride. There the systemâ€a series of sprinklers and hosesâ€was set up around the park as if protecting it from an encroaching fire. The water was pumped from the Fraser River and one-inch, Wasp, Butterfly and irrigation sprinklers covered the perimeter and the structures with water.

Once the demonstration was over, the crew carefully packed everything into the trailer, only to learn that their day was not done. They were told they had half an hour to get over to Koeneman Park and set up the system to protect the two structures and the park from the “fire” that was approaching. Prior to the exercise, flagging tape had been tied to trees to indicate where the fire was.

The crew experienced several challenges that could be faced in a real life situation as they raced to meet the deadline. They installed sprinklers on the roofs of both buildings and along the edge of the trees.

“They did really well,” said Chief Hruby. “I think that if they were given that challenge again, they would shave their time in half.”

Upon completion, the group walked the line and discussed the challengesâ€how they could be avoided or overcome. One such conversation was about a valve that, although a crew member had checked that it was in an off position, was still leaking water, preventing other sprinklers further down the line from acting at full strength. Also, a discussion about the importance of time management and adherence to legalities took place during wrap up.

Included in the conversation was information regarding some first-hand accounts from Kemble. Normally crews of five are sent into a site with two trucks. The reason for the two trucks is to ensure everyone can get out, even if one truck breaks down. He also spoke of getting dropped into a fire zone and having 15 minutes to get set up before the helicopter was leaving.

The training was made possible through funding from the Fire Commissioners Office, Red Cross and the BC Fire Chief Association. The MDFD also purchased hoses for the purpose of wildfire suppression and some personal protection equipment with the money they received.

Valemount currently has a smaller, Level 3 SPU trailer. They practice with the equipment at least once a year at their training grounds.

“We have about a dozen porta-tanks,” said Valemount Fire Chief Rick Lalonde. “Often, the structures we would be protecting are not near a good water source.” He said they used the funding to purchase pagers, pumps and PPE.

“Grants are being made more available to rural communities to help small towns fund wildfire fighting equipment,” Hruby said. “There have been three grants available recentlyâ€two wildfire focused and one rescue. It allows us to purchase big ticket items.”

He would like to be able to have a SPU on site, however with a price tag of $250,000, he doesn’t see that as a possibility.

“There are 14 trailers across the province,” said Hruby. Seven of these are within four and a half hours of McBride, and each trailer is equipped with supplies to potentially protect six properties (depending on the closeness of the building)
“If more funding becomes available, we would most definitely hold another training session,” said Hruby.