Dunster residents working toward improved fire preparedness

You don’t need big funding to make a difference, a little bit of equipment and a little bit of training can make a huge difference.

Ken Kubota, Celtic Restoration

By Andrea Arnold

Some 13 members of the Dunster community have recently completed a basic wildfire training course. 

The course, organized by the Dunster Community Forest through the BC Wildfire Service and Fraser Basin Council’s “Cooperative Community Wildfire Response” program and funded by the Fraser Basin Council, gave residents the chance to participate, learning skills that will enable them to help with BC Wildfire crews with initial attack in the case of a fire.

The in-person training covered S-100: Basic fire suppression training for contract crews, and S-185: Development of basic knowledge of fire entrapment avoidance and safe work procedures. 

Participants also had two online components, ICS-100 was used to familiarize participants with the incident command structure that the BC Wildfire Services follows with all partner agencies and the FireSmart Wildfire Risk Reduction course introduced key concepts and risk reduction strategies. 

Ken Kubota with Celtic Reforestation out of Prince George taught the two-day course at the Dunster Schoolhouse. He said that he has been inundated with requests to teach community based courses around the province.

“I used to do these courses for industry,” he said. “Now about three quarters of the requests come for community events. There was a lot of blowback following last year’s fires when community members were not allowed to help on the lines. I am thrilled to see the Ministry working to change that by facilitating training.”

Kubota says he can understand the concern of allowing untrained civilians into a fire situation. 

“Civilians showing up without training can be a hindrance and concern on a scene,” he said. “It means that the trained crews not only have the job of fire suppression, but also they have to make sure the people are safe as well.

He has been involved in a variety of bush related jobs over the course of 30 years and he has never seen fire seasons like the last five, and he doesn’t expect it to let up.

Kubota has seen communities across the province gathering resources, organizing training and getting plans in place in case of fire. 

He used the community around Francois Lake as a good example of what can be accomplished. The Chinook Emergency Services group has been able to set up a solid wildfire offense complete with training and equipment, with the help of funding from local industry. 

Kubota says that last year the group was able to suppress 20 fires before BC Wildfire crews responded to the area.

“However, you don’t need big funding to make a difference,” he said. “A little bit of equipment and a little bit of training can make a huge difference.”

With the training provided through the course, residents learn skills that allow them to be deployed for property protection and spot fire control. Kubota says that by equipping locals for these tasks, Ministry teams and resources can respond to bigger situations.

In the community training sessions, Kubota helps groups make a simple plan as to what they should do next, how to organize and keep safe.

“This training has created an informal fire brigade in Dunster,” said David McDonald following the sessions.

Another participant, Seth McDonald added it has allowed them to be more prepared. 

“We can’t depend on the province. If there is a big fire near Prince George and Dunster at the same time, if resources are short, who is going to get help first?”

Unofficial spokesperson for the group of trainees, Marion Cousineau said that she found the training motivating and that it got the ball rolling for emergency preparedness.

The group has a plan to form an official committee. This group will make a list of equipment that locals have on hand like water tanks, pumps, generators, trailers and large machinery. 

“We need to have a clear plan for communication, staging grounds for equipment that is not close to forested areas, and what equipment we still need,” said Cousineau.

Once they have an idea of what purchases are needed, they hope to find funding through the Regional District of Fraser Fort George.

Kubota was happy to see the residents jump into action so quickly. As he was packing up to leave, some of the participants were out checking out nearby outbuildings to see what, if any, old equipment was still usable.

“My hope is that when Ministry teams arrive, the locals can provide helpful information, resources and help.”