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.