Special to the Observer
For most students, a first job means working retail or behind a fast-food counter.
Not for Evan Fisher and Jared Hamelin. Their first job out of high school was on the frontlines of wildfire.
“It was a bit of an experience to get out on the line and then see these massive flames coming out. It was definitely a bit of a shocker for me,” laughs Fisher.
Both Fisher, 18, and Hamelin, 22, attended high school in Quesnel and completed the Junior Wildfire Program, which gives Grade 12 students school credit, work experience, and provincially recognized certifications.
“It was pretty neat to basically get the equivalent of the new-recruit bootcamp [in high school],” says Hamelin, who graduated from Correlieu Secondary School in 2017. “It was really neat to get that exposure and a learning experience to be like, ‘Wow, this is actually something I think I’m interested in,’” he continues.
The B.C. Wildfire Service hires summer students from the work experience program each year. Fisher was one of the successful applicants in 2021 (his graduating year), while Hamelin came in third in his interviews in 2017, but re-applied to the B.C. Wildfire Service after his first year of university, and has come back every summer since.
The junior program gave both Hamelin and Fisher a foot in the door. Now, both are members of the Blackwater Unit Crew, which is a provincial firefighting crew based in Quesnel. Hamelin is a crew leader this year.
Hamelin said he was initially attracted to the junior program because it offered an outdoors experience. Fisher had a bit more knowledge about the program – both his older brothers completed it before him.
“It’s active, it’s outside work, and it’s not sitting at a desk all day, which is what I prefer,” explains Fisher.
With June this year being rainy, the crew has mainly remained on base in Quesnel, or on call to help if flooding occurs. Hamelin describes a typical day, saying the team will often do some fitness training in the morning, and then get involved in various projects that help community organizations and provide training for the firefighters – often cutting trails or firebreaks.
“A project typically involves saw work, practising and training with our chainsaws; it’s good for people who haven’t had much time on the saw… which then translates to when we have to cut trail and a fire access, then they know what good access is for the purpose of medical evacuation and transport,” Hamelin explains.
Last summer saw the crew off base more often – Fisher says they were on deployment near 100 Mile House and Merritt for most of the summer. “My first day on the fire line was with the other junior, and we had never really seen fire to that extent,” he notes. “But now we’ve had lots of time on the ground to feel comfortable doing that again.”
Hamelin says when the crew is on the frontline of a wildfire, they work to cut trails for hoses or evacuations and to contain the fire. If the fire is not as active, they may be working adjacent to it; if it’s more explosive, the team will be farther back. “We’ll set up a control line and have people along that control line spaced out so they can watch if [the fire] spots over; we’ll try to have hoses and water ready to catch it.”
Fisher assures that the crew always has multiple safety routes and exit strategies. “We’re always set up for success. We’re not ever putting ourselves into a position where we won’t be able to get out.”
Looking to the future, Hamelin hopes to continue in a wildfire role and potentially find a way to use the Civil Environmental Engineering degree he earned at university. “My goal at the moment is to be here. I really enjoy this job and I think that’s something I’d want to keep doing — it’s just whether there are opportunities for me to also incorporate my degree later on within the organization,” he explains.
Fisher also wants to keep gaining skills he can use for firefighting, as well as for his other job in the Rocky Mountain Rangers, an infantry regiment of the Canadian Army.
“I would like to take a lot of the courses for Blackwater [unit crew] to be able to run saw, and maybe get my medical certifications up so that I can become an asset… I’m going take the training opportunities that they will allow and then hopefully I can help from there,” he says.
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