In 2017, as huge swaths of the province burned, Ron Lampreau and Melanie Stutt began formulating an idea: An Indigenous initial attack wildfire crew, staffed from members of the Simpcw First Nation and built around local expertise.
“They know where those logging roads are, they know where those water sources are, they know which way the winds blow during the day,” said Stutt, the deputy fire chief in Chu Chua, a community located about an hour’s drive north of Kamloops.
“Just being able to use that to best serve our community in an emergency is sort of where we got our idea from.”
The idea sounded great, but never really got off the ground — until this year, that is.
Now, the Simpcw First Nation has signed an agreement with the BC Wildfire Service to get local boots into the bush as soon as a fire is reported.
The Simpcw are part of the Secwepemc, or Shuswap, Nation — one of 17 bands that historically and currently live in the Thompson River Valley.
“From the wildlife, the plants, the medicine, the timber — we saw the need to have this crew go and action these fires before they become a problem,” said Lampreau.
Firefighters from the Simpcw First Nation are responsible for an area within 100 kilometres of their home community. They’ll work in partnership with the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS), as part of a pilot program.
“Our biggest concern is safety,” said BCWS Indigenous relations manager Shawn Reed.
“The trickiest part will be a collaboration with the Fire Centre when they’re out on a fire. Working with dispatch, working with air support, and just ensuring that we’re all on the same page.”
Local industry and community partners have thrown their full support behind the program.
“The small-scale, local knowledge piece, that’s where you get the speed of attack,” said Greg Smith, president of Gilbert Smith Forest Products.
“The goal of getting it out by 10 a.m., and that fast, quick response — that’s key. That’s where that local knowledge and this initiative will really shine.”
“Because Simpcw First Nation helped us initially, to get a community forest, it’s our prerogative and our wish to try and help on a community basis for all of their endeavours,” said Harley Wright, chair of the Lower North Thompson Community Forest.
“We whole-heartedly support this initiative they’re taking on right now.”
Lampreau, along with being fire chief, is also a councillor for Simpcw. His goal is to one day have indigenous initial attack crews in first nations communities all across B.C.
“We hope this takes off. We’re really passionate about this,” Lampreau said.
“These guys are here for any type of emergency, to respond. We really hope each nation, moving forward, has one.”