Simpcw First Nation launches Indigenous Initial Attack initiative to fill a gap due to the lack of resources and personnel ready to respond to new wildfires within the Simpcw territory. Simpcw First Nation Councillor Ron Lampreau Jr. brought forward this initiative after the 2017 wildfires.
“I had all the right people in the room, but it never gained any traction. They all thought it was a good idea, then when it came to who was going to fund it, it just kind of stopped in its tracks,” said Lampreau.
However, given the 1,594 active wildfires, approximately 1.2 million hectares burned and over 65,000 people evacuated this summer, BC Wildfire Service was ready to hear about this initiative again.
BC Wildfire Service signed a seasonal pilot project agreement with Simpcw First Nation's Chu Chua Volunteer Fire Department, which allows the IIA crew to be dispatched directly from the Fire Center and respond quickly to any new fire within the Simpcw territory.
The service area is a 100-to-150-kilometer radius within the home base of Chu Chua, keeping the crew always close to the community to protect the local resources.
Ron Lampreau Jr., alongside Deputy Fire Chief Melanie Stutt, started assembling a crew. The crew is made up of a crew boss and three crew members, all of whom are Simpcw band members from the Chu Chua Volunteer Fire Department. The crew boss has an extensive background in the forestry sector, making them an invaluable asset with their knowledge of the forest sector. All crew members possess local knowledge of the land, water sources, cultural deposits, medicine, contractors, and service roads, which serve to enhance their ability to access and fight fires. The crew ensures local boots are on the ground as a fire is reported and works quickly to set up and remove fuel from the fire's path and/or to extinguish it. The crew also assists with fire-smarting homes, cross-cultural training with BC Wildfire Service, prescribed burns, fuel reduction programs, and building relationships with local loggers, and contractors.
Local industry and community partners have thrown their full support behind the IIA initiative.
“The small-scale, local knowledge piece, that’s where you get the speed of attack,” said Greg Smith, president of Gilbert Smith Forest Products.
“Simpcw First Nation helped us initially, it’s our prerogative and our wish to try and help on a community basis for all of their endeavors,” said Harley Wright, Chair of the Lower North Thompson Community Forest.
Ron Lampreau Jr. and Deputy Fire Chief Melanie Stutt's vision are to one day have indigenous initial attack crews in all First Nation communities across B.C., protecting the valuable resources and land.
Simpcw First Nation is expanding facilities to include a Regional Emergency Response Centre in Chu Chua. The Emergency Response Centre will include space for emergency response personnel, wildfire equipment, training /break-out rooms, and the current Fire Department.