Bat­tling the blaze

Sol­diers from Moose Jaw back home af­ter bat­tling wild fires in B.C.


Just the gusto, just be ready to get up and get at it, it’s a hard long day Cpl. Jerry Heil­man

This sum­mer has been a hot and dry one for Saskatchewan, but for two Moose Jaw based Cana­dian Forces re­servists this month was es­pe­cially warm.

Cpl. Jerry Heil­man along with Master Cpl. Bran­don Da­cunha headed west to Bri­tish Columbia Sept. 1 to back up fire­fight­ers bat­tling the wild­fires that have rav­aged the prov­ince.

The two were part of Cana­dian Forces do­mes­tic op­er­a­tion LENTUS, set up by the armed forces to as­sist pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial gov­ern­ments who are in the midst of se­ri­ous nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

Be­fore be­ing sent to the front lines of the fire, the two joined other forces mem­bers for train­ing in Ed­mon­ton, where they re­ceived in­struc­tion on how to prop­erly use fire­fight­ing equip­ment and how to work safely in the dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ment they would be in.

Heil­man, whose reg­u­lar job is with SGI as a tow truck op­er­a­tor, said this train­ing was brief, but pro­vided them with the knowl­edge they needed to do their jobs.

Once in BC, the two mainly worked to make sure that fires would not reignite in the same area.

“The BC Wild­fire Ser­vice would go in there con­trol the fire and then we go in there, be the mop-up crew,” ex­plained Da­cunha, whose reg­u­lar job is in sales at Tay­lor Toy­ota in Moose Jaw.

This work to put out po­ten­tial hot spots was labour in­ten­sive.

“We would dig up coals, any­where where there’d be smoke, (we’d dig) down to the soil and spray wa­ter on it,” Da­cunha said.

Their du­ties also in­volved deal­ing with other po­ten­tial haz­ards.

“Trees that were look­ing like they were dan­ger trees, that could do harm to any­one com­ing through and they’d be cut down as well,” he said.

How­ever, there were also times when the re­servists would have to deal with more se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tions.

“There were def­i­nitely in­stances where crews would come upon a fire that (had) flames a cou­ple feet high,” said Heil­man. “We’d set up a pump sys­tem, we found a moss bog and we dug a sump pit into the bog and put a pump in there, and we were able to have about five to ten min­utes of wa­ter at a time to fight that fire with.”

He said sit­u­a­tions where there were ac­tual fires were gen­er­ally the ones where the adren­a­line would get go­ing.

“You see flames, ev­ery­one wants to get in there and ac­tu­ally at­tack the fire and get it out,” said Heil­man. “Any­time that was pre­sented to us the fires were out by the end of the day.”

The day would start at 6 a.m. with break­fast and would usu­ally end around 5:30 or 6 p.m.

“Gen­er­ally, at night it calms down a lot more so the crews will in gen­eral rest for the night,” ex­plained Heil­man.

He said that in or­der to be suc­cess­ful in fight­ing for­est fires, peo­ple need to have the right at­ti­tude.

“Just the gusto, just be ready to get up and get at it, it’s a hard long day.” he said.

Some days there would be lots of hik­ing over some chal­leng­ing ter­rain in or­der to find po­ten­tial hot spots.

“The wa­ter bombers would knock down trees, so the trees would all be in­ter­twined, so you would have to climb amongst that to find that black path and where the hotspots might be,” Heil­man said.

When asked whether he would be in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing in a sim­i­lar ef­fort again, Heil­man, who also as­sisted with ef­forts in 2011 dur­ing the Man­i­toba floods, was em­phatic.

“Ab­so­lutely,” he replied.


Two Moose Jaw re­servists with the Cana­dian Forces do­mes­tic op­er­a­tion LENTUS, went to B.C. to as­sist with fight­ing wild fires.


TOP: Jerry Heil­man do­ing work in B.C. BOT­TOM: A scene from the bar­racks.

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