March 6, 2017 6:24 pm
Updated: March 6, 2017 7:03 pm

First Nations students get hands-on wildfire training

WATCH ABOVE: Although it may not seem like it outside, we're about a week into wildfire season in Alberta. A new partnership between Saamis Aboriginal Employment and Lethbridge College will see a dozen newly-trained firefighters, ready for the battle. Erik Mikkelsen reports.

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In just a few days, a group of First Nations students in the Lethbridge area will have learned – in theory – all they need to know about battling wildfires.

Some have been learning for the first time while others have already had hands-on experience and are now getting recertified.

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“This is basically like studying and getting to know what you are going to be expecting out there,” Tylen Twigg, a student renewing his certificate said. “The real experience comes when you are out on the line. That’s when you are getting your hours, you start knowing what to do and when to do everything.”

Twigg put his knowledge to the test when he and hundreds of other firefighters battled “The Beast” in Fort McMurray last year.

“It was kind of heartbreaking to be up there, I had a lump in my throat every time I was up there,” Twigg said.

He is now renewing his certificate for Wildland Firefighting through a partnership with Saamis Aboriginal Employment and Training and Lethbridge College. The firefighting training course is specifically for First Nations people.

“Thirty per cent of the unemployment rate is aboriginal people. In order to create more career opportunities, Saamis hosts programs like this to ensure our clientele are competitive in the labour market,” said Katie-Jo Rabbit, a manager with Saamis.

“We’re trying to get personnel prepared and to the fire line in numbers that are increasingly bigger in volume and in competency and obviously build the capacity for the province,” lead instructor Troy O’Connor said.

Twigg said this kind of training and the work he gets to do on the line will continue to fuel him going forward.

“You know, seeing people out there having a good time, putting out fires, doing what they love to do,” Twigg said. “I’m basically a lifer here.”

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