Ktunaxa Nation communities train to combat wildfires 

Dec 14, 2023

Indigenous firefighters learning Wildfire Training in ?Aqam

Photo submitted by Rob Bosse.

In the Ktunaxa Nation, Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi ‘it (Tobacco Plains) and ?Aq’am have been forging a path towards self-reliance in the face of wildfires. This year, they’ve been on a journey acquiring skills and knowledge to protect their communities and preserve their traditions. One of the ways the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society (FNESS) has been there to support them is through the Wildland Firefighter Training Program.

Tobacco Plains raises new fire brigade leaders

Under the guidance of Brett Uphill, Tobacco Plains Fire Department Chief and Manager of Fire and Emergency Services, 18 members of the local volunteer fire department gathered in October to strengthen their capabilities. The diverse group included some existing fire crew leaders, but a majority were crew leaders in the making.

The focus of this training was to learn the S-241 Fire Assessment Course, a comprehensive program designed to nurture new and emerging crew leaders. Through practical examples, participants learned to craft precise and accurate evaluations of fires, preparing initial fire reports (IFRs) based on real-life scenarios. FNESS integrated the Wildland Firefighter Training Program seamlessly into the fire department’s regular training nights, fostering a customized approach that suits the community’s needs.

This marked the third time FNESS delivered wildland firefighter training to Tobacco Plains, building on the success of previous sessions covering S-230 Fireline Supervision and Basic Chainsaw Operator. Armed with this training, the fire department responded effectively to wildfires this summer, both on and off reserve.

The fire department has scheduled more training for the near future.

Tobacco Plains participating in Wildland Firefighting training

Tobacco Plains Wildland Firefighting Training. Photo submitted by Rob Bosse.

?Aq’am First Nation certifies and celebrates 10 new wildland firefighters

Meanwhile, ?Aq’am First Nation celebrated the recent certification of 10 community firefighters, meeting the requirements of WorkSafe BC and BC Wildfire Service to fight wildfires. FNESS worked with them along way, delivering training modules spread throughout the year. For two of the modules, S-100 and S-185, FNESS taught the students while also mentoring the Wildland Fire Manager for ?Aq’am Community Enterprises, Ashley O’Neil, so she can be certified to teach the courses herself.

?Aq’am’s journey extends beyond firefighting skills. Their cultural and prescribed fire practices protected their community, and their neighbours, against the St. Mary River Wildfire earlier this year and demonstrated the power of Indigenous knowledge to their non-Indigenous neighbours.

Looking ahead, ?Aq’am aspires to establish a Ktunaxa Nation Firefighting Crew by 2024, prepared to face the challenges of the upcoming wildfire season. This collective effort aims to safeguard all four First Nation communities that constitute the Ktunaxa Nation Territory, recognizing the importance of their ancestral land as a fire-dependent ecosystem. By practicing their use of Good Fire, building their own community wildfire crew, and aspiring to achieve a territorial Ktunaxa Nation Wildfire crew, they are truly an inspiration.

As these communities tread the path of self-reliance, their journey becomes a beacon of light, rooted in indigenous resilience and a commitment to preserving their lands for generations to come.

Wildland firefighters from ?Aq'am First Nation standing by the water.

Wildland firefighters from ?Aq’am. Photo submitted by Rob Bosse.

How to receive training for your community

If you’re interested in training for your First Nation community, please reach out to: wildfire@fness.bc.ca or Rob Bosse, Wildfire Division Supervisor at  rbosse@fness.bc.ca and he will connect you with the wildfire specialist who will support your wildfire resiliency needs.

Learn more about FNESS Wildfire Division Programs.