The passion of many Salmon Arm students for fighting wildfires has been fueled by the Rapattack Junior Fire Crew program.
The Kamloops Fire Centre points out that the Rapattack program has delivered the junior program to youth in the Salmon Arm area for more than two decades. Fifty-seven Junior Fire Crew participants have worked at the base since 1998 and many of them subsequently worked as seasonal firefighters for the BC Wildfire Service and Rapattack.
Rapattack crews are the initial attack firefighters who can quickly respond to wildfires that are difficult to access by foot or ground vehicle. They normally rappel from helicopters to perform fire suppression activities. The Rapattack base in Salmon Arm has existed since the 1980s.
The primary partnership of the Rapattack Junior Fire Crew program has been with Salmon Arm Secondary.
Maggie Beckner and Maggie Rodwell from Salmon Arm were both successful junior recruits following the 2020 Junior Rapattack program.
“Working as a junior firefighter at Rapattack was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Beckner. “I worked with amazing people who challenged me to maximize my potential. I’m grateful for the awesome experience.”
“Being a junior firefighter was without a doubt the best summer job out there, full of experiences you wouldn’t gain anywhere else,” she said.
Rapattack Wildfire Technician Jeremy Neufeld from Salmon Arm started his career 15 seasons ago in Burns Lake as a Junior Fire Crew member. He is currently employed full time by the BC Wildfire Service and is heavily involved with recruitment.
According to the fire centre, about 45 per cent of the Rapattack program’s current staff were recruited through a Junior Fire Crew program in Salmon Arm or elsewhere in the province.
Candidates who choose to take on the program participate in two after-school training sessions per week for up to five weeks.
Successful candidates are usually attached to an Initial Attack crew and can be deployed to a fire site by truck or helicopter. Whenever possible, Junior Fire Crew members are deployed to large ‘project’ fires to work alongside experienced firefighting veterans and stay in a fire camp.
Once program participants complete a season as Junior Fire Crew members and complete the BC Wildfire Service screening and interview process, they are invited to the provincial boot camp. Recruitment to the Rapattack base and other BC Wildfire Service fire bases occurs after successful completion of boot camp.
Although applications for this year have closed for the Rapattack Junior Fire Crew program, the Kamloops Fire Centre encourages people who are interested to look into 2022 recruitment. Online applications are expected to open in mid-November 2021.