B.C. helicopter company heads to Alberta for nighttime wildfire training

Click to play video: 'Night vision technology assists wildfire fights'
Night vision technology assists wildfire fights
WATCH: With the growing risk of wildfires, technology is now helping the firefight continue around the clock. A B.C. company has added night vision to its helicopters, but as Emily Lazatin reports, this equipment is being shippped off for use elsewhere in Canada – Apr 28, 2024

As Alberta prepares for what could be another highly active wildfire season, a B.C. helicopter company has landed a new contract with the Alberta government, training pilots how to battle wildfires from the sky at night.

“Alberta has decided to go into nighttime firefighting activities with aircraft, so it will be with NVG (Night Vision Goggles) and actually actioning the fires,” said Trent Lemke, owner of Ascent Helicopters. “They want 24/7 services for their fire crews.”

Lemke says that there aren’t a lot of operators in the province or even the country set up to offer these services, adding that there are several advantages to fighting wildfires after the sun sets.

“You have less fire activity so you can actually action the fire with a higher success rate,” said Lemke.

“The other part is having ground crews working on the fires 24/7, so when the crews are on the fire that mean they can back them up with aircrafts now.”

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Click to play video: 'Crews prepare for busy B.C. wildfire season with flight simulators'
Crews prepare for busy B.C. wildfire season with flight simulators

One pilot with Ascent Helicopters says it takes a bit of time to get used to wearing NVG while flying, as it’s not something that’s taught during basic training, but once he went through it, he said it’s similar to flying during the day.

“The plan will be for most of the flight to be conducted under NVG, and usually when we get closer to picking up the water, we’ll have to refer to looking outside our goggles, but we’ll constantly be transitioning back and forth,” said Dean Elliot, flight training manager at Ascent Helicopters.

“As we fly en route to the fire or dropping on the fire, we’ll be conducting it under the goggles.”

This isn’t the first big contract Ascent Helicopters has been offered. Last year, the company signed a 10-year, $544-million contract to serve as B.C.’s air ambulance helicopter provider. Elliot says a big reason why the company’s services are so sought after is because of their purpose-built tanks on the bottom of their helicopters – something the company developed almost 15 years ago.

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“It’s a home-grown tank – it’s a purpose-built tank and one of the few purpose-built firefighting tanks in the world actually,” said Elliot. “We can offer the specialized equipment in addition to the NVG to make us successful for anyone.”

The new contract with the Alberta government runs for the next five years, and crews will be hitting the sky on Sunday and headed to Alberta, with training beginning on Monday.

Between Mar. 1 and Oct. 31, 2023, Alberta saw 2.2 million hectares burned by wildfires.

With files from CFJC

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