The BC Wildfire Service employees 1,100 Type 1 firefighters who annually respond to nearly 1,600 wildfires on behalf of the Province of B.C.
All BC Wildfire Service firefighters are trained to Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) standards and are required to complete the Canadian Performance Exchange Standard for Type 1 Wildland Firefighters (the WFX-FIT Test). Given their high level of skills and experience, Type 1 firefighters, who are employees of a government agency (such as the BC Wildfire Service), can be deployed or imported nationally or internationally through mutual aid agreements.
The majority of wildfires in British Columbia are responded to by three-person initial attack crews. When a wildfire grows beyond initial attack resources, 20-person unit crews perform sustained action.
The type(s) of initial attack crew deployed to fight a wildfire depend on a variety of factors, including location, terrain, size and fire behaviour. The BC Wildfire Service has two types of specialized initial attack crews: parattack crews and rapattack crews.
Initial attack firefighters operate as part of a three-person crew and are usually the first on scene of a new wildfire. Once there, the initial attack crew works quickly to set up water pumps, remove fuel from the fire’s path and dig fire guards to control or extinguish the blaze. There are about 390 BC Wildfire Service initial attack firefighters stationed throughout the province, strategically placed in areas of high fire danger or high fire activity. Initial attack crews are highly mobile and are often relocated to help fight wildfires throughout the province.
Unit crews operate in 20-person packs and are specialized to perform sustained action when a fire has grown beyond initial attack resources. Unit crews establish pump and hose lines, dig fire guards, burn off fuel from the fire’s path, and use chainsaws to cut fuel breaks and remove danger trees. There are 30 unit crews throughout the province of B.C.; and like their initial attack counterparts, unit crews are highly mobile and can be called away to work in areas of high fire activity. For wildfires in remote locations, or those which require a high level of response for an extended period of time, unit crew personnel may live in a temporary fire camp and work for 14 days in a row.
Parattack crews parachute to fires in hard to access locations from fixed-wing aircraft. Fixed-wing aircraft can transport more personnel and equipment, faster and over greater distances than other modes of transport. Based out of the Prince George Fire Centre in Fort St. John and Mackenzie, parattack crews can respond anywhere in the province within two hours.
Rapattack crews rappel and/or hoist from rotary-wing aircraft (i.e. helicopters) in order to perform initial attack fire suppression on often otherwise inaccessible wildfires. The Rapattack Program is based out of the Kamloops Fire Centre in Salmon Arm, which is centrally located for the majority of wildfires that require Rapattack response.