March 9th, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 10
CNP Pass Fire/Rescue gearing up for wildfire season
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Ezra Black Photo
Top Row: Lorne Gault, Marty Schmidt. Bottom Row: Duane Pierce, Mark McCraken.
Pass Herald Reporter
After a grueling selection process, Crowsnest Pass Fire/Rescue’s new Fire Smart Team is assembled and preparing for what is expected to be an active wildfire season.

Council approved an eight-month term of employment starting March 1 for the wildfire task force in December 2015 after meeting with Agricultural Services, Crowsnest Fire/Rescue and representatives from the Town of Slave Lake’s fire services.

It’ll be the second specialized wildfire fighting crew of its kind in Alberta; the other is situated in Slave Lake.

The program is being paid for by grants, said Steve Debienne, manager of Protective Services/ Fire Chief, including a $60,000 FireSmart grant the Pass received in December.

“There will be no impact on Crowsnest Pass citizens with regards to taxes,” said Debienne.

Lt. Lorne Gault and team members Marty Schmidt, Duane Pierce and Mark McCraken are in the middle of a crash course in wildfire fighting. They will be taking courses in wildfire mitigation, fire control methods and structural protection over the next couple of weeks.

They’ll then get to working with citizens to ensure properties are prepared for a wildfire by enforcing the seven disciplines of Fire Smart which are education, vegetation management, legislation and planning, development considerations, interagency cooperation, emergency planning and cross training.

They’ll also be fighting fires, it if comes to that.

Debienne said the Pass could be in for an active wild fire season.
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“It’s been hot, dry and there hasn’t been snow,” he said. “What does that mean for us, we don’t know? We can’t predict the future. What we can tell you is Crowsnest Pass Fire/Rescue is gearing up for what we are predicting will be a very busy wildfire season. That could change at a moment’s notice if we get some snow or some heavy rains in the spring.”

Wildfire technologist Brad McKenzie concurred, citing data collected by government agencies, including Environment Canada, from different monitoring stations.

“In terms of snow, when you get closer to the continental divide, there are areas where we’re near or at our average snow pack for the year,” he said. “But when you get into the Crowsnest Pass and out past Pincher Creek and the Porcupine Hills, we’re well below the usual level of snow we’d have this time of year.”

“This is an El Niño year,” he said. “The forecast and the trend has been less precipitation and higher temperatures and we’ve been seeing that.”
According to a 2013 Herald article by Lindsay Goss, the Pass hasn’t had a bad wildfire since the 2003 Lost Creek Fire, its largest since 1930, which burned 20,000 hectares of timber on the south side of the municipality and forced the evacuation of two towns. Forestry officials, firefighters and locals had a hard time fighting the fire, due to high winds and the rugged topography of the area.

Numerous berms and cut lines built to contain the flames were easily overrun in the month-long blaze before it was fully contained. Luckily, no homes were lost.

Then were also significant fires in the Castle area in 2001 and 1999 plus a large fire in 1956 in the Lynx Creek area and two large fires in the west and south Castle areas in the 1930s, said McKenzie.

“They definitely come in cycles,” he said.

In addition to Crowsnest Pass Fire/Rescues Fire Smart Team, McKenzie said Environment and Parks is putting together four, four-person crews for the summer and has the ability to hire more crews as needed.
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Who are the new Crowsnest Pass Fire Smart Team members?

They’re Lt. Lorne Gault and firefighters Marty Schmidt, Duane Pierce and Mark McCraken.

Gault has served eight years with Crowsnest Pass Fire/Rescue.
“I’ve got fire experience,” he said. “I think that they chose me for this position because of that.”

Schmidt is a triathlete who said the physical test to qualify for the team was a challenge.

“The physical testing was the most challenging test I’ve ever done,” he said. “I’ve applied for other law enforcement agencies where their testing wasn’t near what we had to go through.”

Pierce joined the fire department in September and is new to the community. He joined the team looking for “new challenges,” and is looking forward to doing some prescribed burns to keep the community safe.

McCraken has been in the Pass for over a year. He’s a displaced oil worker who got a forestry degree about 25 years ago.

“I’m displaced from the oil patch,” he said. “I was working there and the economy slowed down so I looked for other alternatives. This was one of the jobs I wanted to do when I was 20 and now I’m doing it. It’s going to be exciting. I’m looking forward to working around the community.”
March 9th ~ Vol. 85 No. 10
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