Fire fighting team will soon be looking for new crew members

Port Alberni

The Thunderbird Unit is hoping to add more First Nations people to its forest fire fighting team next year.

The unit will soon be winding down its 2011 season as student members leave to return to university.

It may seem early, but 2012 crew hopefuls need to start to prepare physically prior to filling out applications in the fall.

Unit leader Chris Spronken said now is the time to think about applying to be a crew member for next season. Interviews are held from mid-November to mid-January.

Hiring is completed early in the year as the crew needs to be able to hit the ground running in the spring when new members go to boot camp and receive basic training.

In the past, the 20-person crew has had a large number of local First Nations members on its team, but this year there are only five.

"The numbers have gone down over the past few years," said Spronken. "We are trying to gain interest and we are trying to get (First Nations) people through our hiring process."

It's not an easy process to go through, he stressed, but he is very willing to help coach people through the multi-step application.

"The weirdest thing about our hiring process which catches most people off guard is the fact that you have to apply in November through December, up to January. So you have to think of summer time around Christmas time."

There is also a pre-employment fitness standard that has to be met; another reason to start pre-application preparations early.

Part of the physical test is a 45-minute pack test where an applicant must carry 45 pounds (20.43 kilograms) in a pack and do 12 laps around a track in under 45 minutes.

"It's a good pace. It's not really onerous," said Spronken. "We do a pump hose test where you have to pack a pump hose for 150 metres, then out and back 50 metres with a charged hose. They weigh a fair bit. With the friction on the ground, around 100 pounds."

Spronken said joining the Thunderbird Unit is a great job for students, though they do have a lot of members who make it a career. He noted the crew is looking for individuals studying or interested in resource management.

"We are really supportive of (students). We are flexible around school dates. We make sure that the prime focus of ‘education first’ is maintained."

Every year three or four positions open up on the crew. The focus is on fitness, teamwork, and training early in the season. Positive reports from this year's deployments to Slave Lake and Ontario show the early training schedule pays off.

Read more about how to apply to join the Thunderbird Unit and fight forest fires in B.C on the web at

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