There are four different types of crew within the BC Wildfire Service: initial attack, rapattack, parattack and unit crews.
These crews comprise of Type 1 firefighters who are physically fit, highly trained and skilled individuals and who are employees of a government agency, such as the BC Wildfire Service, or another formally recognized jurisdiction.
In British Columbia the challenging landscape combined with the harsh wildland fire environment require knowledgeable, prepared personnel. The BC Wildfire Service has 1,100 Type 1 firefighters who annually respond to nearly 2,000 fires on behalf of the province of B.C.
Type 2 firefighters (contract crews) are often called on to assist with wildfires that have lower intensity and present a lower risk to firefighter safety. These contract crews are typically used in wildfires that are considered to be contained, under control or in mop-up stage.
The type(s) of crew deployed to fight a wildfire depends on a variety of factors including location, terrain, size and fire behaviour.
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. The majority of fires in British Columbia are responded to by initial attack crews.
Sometimes wildfires will occur in areas that are difficult to access, either on foot or by vehicle and where there are no suitable landing areas for helicopters nearby. In these instances a rappel crew may be called on to respond to the fire. Firefighters rappel from a helicopter adjacent to the fire to take immediate action. Additionally rappel crews may be utilized to build helipads allowing helicopters to land and deliver personnel and equipment to difficult to access fires.
Parattack crews (referred to as ‘smoke jumpers’ in the U.S.) parachute from fixed-wing aircraft, as opposed to the conventional helicopter response. This allows more personnel and equipment to be deployed faster and over greater distances. Parattack crews are based in Fort St. John and are used mainly in the north east of portion of British Columbia.
20-person unit crews of Type 1 firefighters specialize in larger fires and are used when when fires grow 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. 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.
Once a fire, or area of a fire, is considered to be under control (i.e. contained) contract crews (Type 2 firefighters) may be utilised to; ‘mop-up’ a fire using pumps and hose lays; to patrol areas in which a wildfire has burned using hand tools to extinguish any remaining smokes or hotspots; and, to complete the removal of equipment from fires once they are fully extinguished.
List of companies approved to provide contract crews (PDF) to BC Wildfire Service