Student stories

Fighting fires with the BC Wildlife Management Branch

Meaghan Schaefer

BC Wildlife Management Branch

Recreation and Health Education co-op student Meaghan Schaefer spent an amazing work term with the BC Wildfire Management Branch of the provincial government. As a forest fire fighter, Meaghan was part of a crew working out of Port Alberni. Read on to learn about Meaghan's experiences and how she applied her RHED skills in this unique workplace.

For my fourth and final co-op work term I worked for the B.C. Wildfire Management Branch of the provincial government as a forest fire fighter. The B.C. Wildfire Management branch works to deliver global excellence in wildfire management and in their response services. Their main focus is to provide for the safety of the public and to protect B.C. forest lands, grass lands, natural resources and material assets from unwanted fire. The Wildfire Management Branch oversees six fire centers located across B.C. I worked as a part of the Coastal Fire Center as a member of the Thunderbird unit crew based in Port Alberni.

A unit crew is made up of twenty auxiliary employees including one crew supervisor, four crew leaders, and fifteen crew members. Unit crews are primarily utilized on fires requiring expanded attack operations (fires that cannot be contained by initial attack crews). Unit crews are equipped with the necessary gear to construct and work a fire line. As a forest fire fighter my primary responsibility was to respond promptly, effectively and safely to wildfires. Fire crews provide the following services: fire line construction (digging hand guards / constructing fuel frees), helipad construction, facilitating water delivery and creating a hose lay, conducting danger tree assessments, tree removal and trail construction, burning off and back burning, mop- up, patrol, demobilization and rehabilitation of the area in order to contain and suppress a fire. When the crew is not working directly on a fire we are engaged in practice and physical training.

During my co-op experience, as a Recreation and Health Education student I developed crew fitness programs using my background in program planning, exercise prescription, strength and athletic training from UVic. The program goal was to reduce the likelihood of overuse and fatigue related injuries on the crew by implementing job specific fitness programs. Each morning we dedicated one hour to physical training. I designed and implemented new strength training circuits, as well as cardiovascular training programs for the crew’s morning program. I was also able to use my past coop experiences as a physiotherapy aide to help me create injury specific prevention and rehabilitation programs. For example, I created an ankle strengthening program as ankle sprains resulting from hiking on uneven or steep terrain are one of the most common injuries experienced by crew members. I was also able to educate people around proper techniques for taping their specific injuries.

As a result of this experience, I am much more comfortable taking charge and initiating change. I have learned that people are much more open to change when you involve them in the process. I also found that if you don’t speak up about how you feel, nothing will change.

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