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Firefighters receive special training to combat wildfires near urban communities

Click to play video: 'Specialized wildfire training program being hosted in Strathcona County'
Specialized wildfire training program being hosted in Strathcona County
WATCH: With wildfires becoming more common and closer to communities near forests and grasslands, the International Association of Fire Fighters said it's time to think outside the box. As Lisa MacGregor explains, firefighters from across Canada are gathered in Strathcona County to take part in the IASS's Train the Trainer program. – May 28, 2024

Firefighters from across Canada have gathered in Strathcona County to learn more about responding to wildland fires in urban areas.

The county is the first Canadian community in 2024 to host the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Responding to the Interface (RTI) program to further their specialized training in fighting wildfires that burn in areas where communities meet grasslands and forests.

On Tuesday, firefighters took part in an operational readiness exercise, acting as if a wildfire was coming towards the Busenius Estates neighbourhood in the county directly east of Edmonton.

Firefighters from across Canada taking part in a International Association of Fire Fighters urban wildfire training exercise and mock fire simulation in Strathcona County, Alta. on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. Global News

With wildfires becoming more common and closer to communities near forests and grasslands, one of the trainers said it’s time to think beyond the traditional training.

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“For structural firefighters, we’re used to having a fire, if you will, inside of box — like a house fire or something like that — and we’re really good at keeping that fire in that box. With these urban interface fires now we’ve got fire outside,” said Mark Brise, master instructor with International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).

A key difference Brise pointed out: having to be nimble and switch directions quickly.

Wildland firefighters are not attached to a fire hydrant and staying in one spot.

“They’re pulling their hose lines, they’re spraying the targets that we’ve identified for them, and then they’re quickly reloading their hose lines.”

Firefighters from across Canada taking part in a International Association of Fire Fighters urban wildfire training exercise in Strathcona County, Alta. on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. Global News

Even how the hoses are dealt with is different.

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“At a structure fire, usually our hoses come off once and we use them, and then when we’re done with them, we put them away exactly as as we see fit and our engines are ready to go again,” Brise said.

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“In these areas, we have to be able to move from address to address to address. So the hose lines come off, we load them up really quickly and then we can move on to the next address.”

Firefighters from across Canada taking part in a International Association of Fire Fighters urban wildfire training exercise and mock fire simulation in Strathcona County, Alta. on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. Global News

The Kamloops, B.C.-based firefighter is part of the IAFF’s Train the Trainer program, which brings in experienced instructors from across the United States and Western Canada.

The program equips firefighters with tactics, strategies and skills to respond effectively to wildland urban interface fires and be able to train other firefighters.

“So now we’re all going to be speaking the same language for strategies and tactics and things like that. I can come to Strathcona from Kamloops — we’re going to be doing the same tactics, we call them the same things.

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The class wasn’t just for Strathcona County crews. Brise said firefighters from Fredericton to B.C. and everywhere in between came to Alberta for the course. Staff from Edmonton Fire Rescue Services also participated.

Firefighters from across Canada taking part in a International Association of Fire Fighters urban wildfire training exercise in Strathcona County, Alta. on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. Global News

The county said the RTI course presented by IAFF instructors allows the attending firefighters to be trained and certified themselves, who can then pass on the knowledge to local firefighters, enhancing Canada’s overall firefighting response.

“Firefighters that have come to Strathcona are going to go back to their departments and hopefully advocate for this kind of training. And it’s going to help it spread it across the country.”

The goal of standardized training and terminology is increased safety for both firefighters and civilians, and saving more critical infrastructure.

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“It’s not that we’re seeing new training, new challenges,” said Gordon George, deputy chief of Strathcona County Emergency Services.

“It’s really about updating and increasing our resources and techniques — so we’re just that more effective and collaborative, when it comes to responding to these types of incidents.”

Firefighters from across Canada taking part in a International Association of Fire Fighters urban wildfire training exercise in Strathcona County, Alta. on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. Global News

The specialized training will help urban firefighters battle wildfires that encroach on areas where communities are adjacent to grasslands and forest. This area, known as the wildland urban interface (WUI), requires different approaches and tools than urban fires.

“Our structural firefighters need to be trained in these tactics to deal with these fires as they get closer and even into our communities,” Brise said.

“That’s why we really see a need for this training — we’re dealing with these fires already, so let’s get trained properly.”

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Like much of the rest of Alberta, Strathcona County saw an earlier wildfire season this year, starting in April instead of May.

A sign used in the mock fire simulation in Strathcona County, Alta. on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. Global News

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