B.C. takes action with new wildfire training and education centre, first of its kind in North America (flickr.com)

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Summary of recommendations from Premier’s Expert Task Force on Emergencies

The Premier’s Expert Task Force on Emergencies was announced by Premier David Eby in September 2023. The task force was asked to provide recommendations to government on wildfire and emergency management, with a focus on improvements that could be implemented before and during the 2024 season. The task force began meeting in October 2023 and concluded its work at the end of February 2024.

The task force consisted of experts appointed by Premier Eby and senior staff from the Premier’s office, Ministry of Forests, and Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness

The task force was asked to identify improvements related to nine deliverables: 

  1. Enhance the current technology used by Wildfire Predictive Services, including the use of artificial intelligence and other technologies.  
  2. Planning for incorporation of local resources for wildfire response. 
  3. Improve integration of rural and municipal fire departments into BC Wildfire Service response in the wildland urban interface. 
  4. Review and update the Wildfire Emergency Response Strategy. 
  5. Strengthen community participation in all disciplines of FireSmart. 
  6. Identify effective expansion opportunities in wildfire prevention programs. 
  7. Enhance the Evacuation Registration Assistance (ERA) tool to provide fully digital support for evacuees. 
  8. Modernize and enhance community delivery of Emergency Support Services (ESS), including post-wildfire support. 
  9. Identify opportunities to assist First Nations and local authorities to improve evacuation-order-and-alert awareness and compliance. 

These deliverables reflected common topics that emerged as provincial officials met with First Nations, local governments, emergency managers and communities during the 2023 wildfire season. 

Over the course of the task force process, mental health and resilience also emerged as a common theme in discussions and engagement with partners and stakeholders, and the task force provided recommendations for action on this topic.

To read the full list of recommendations, visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-management/emergency-management/emergency-activation/em-taskforce

Details on the new wildfire education and training centre

The Ministry of Forests’ BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) is partnering with Thompson Rivers University (TRU) to strengthen training, learning and development programs for the BC Wildfire Service, its partners and communities throughout the province.  

Program plan and launch:

  • The development of a wildland firefighting training and education program is being launched immediately, and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been formalized between the partners.
  • By working together, TRU and BCWS staff are enhancing curriculum, learning outcomes, delivery and operational strategies. 
  • TRU’s new Institute for Wildfire Science, Adaptation and Resiliency, launched in October 2023, will be a key source for research and innovation that will bolster wildland firefighter training and education.
  • A purpose-built facility to train wildland firefighters, communities and students is currently in the concept development phase.

Expanding training and creating career pathways:

  • TRU is uniquely positioned to work with BCWS to build up wildfire training, as it integrates occupational and vocational training within a research university enabling the translation from theory to field-proven application.
  • BCWS is experiencing an increased demand for training in communities. TRU will help build capacity to train more external instructors to deliver courses in place for communities throughout the province. 
  • BCWS is increasing staff training for natural hazards response. Updated training, certification, learning and development programs will provide opportunities for career development throughout the career continuum, from new recruit to leadership.
  • TRU is well-positioned to work with the BCWS through their well-established Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) program, by providing the opportunity for wildland fire management and response staff to apply for credits towards post-secondary diplomas and degrees based on their relevant experience and education gained in the workplace.

Student intake and enrolment:

  • The proposed academic certificate, diploma and bachelor programs are expected to register 20 new undergraduate intake seats per year.
  • The academic programs in development are in addition to increased standard training for wildland firefighters in partnership with BCWS. 
  • By 2028-29, more than 1,000 workshops will be offered per year, which will translate into 10,000 course registrations.

A purpose-built facility to train wildland firefighters, communities, and students:

  • A new facility will provide classroom and lab space to further wildfire studies, including: wildfire science, social health and community impacts of wildfire; Indigenous history and cultural fire, climate and community adaptation; mitigation and prevention research; as well as emergency management learning and training.
  • The building will also provide accommodation and services for groups of learners and trainees for concentrated learning opportunities, such as complex emergency management scenarios.
  • The space will also accommodate orientation and briefing for local and incoming domestic and international personnel during wildfire response.

Ensuring research and innovation informs current and future training and education:

  • The academic programs will foster innovative ideas, advance science and the latest research will be meaningfully transferred into direct wildfire and climate emergency mitigation, preparedness, prevention and response activities. 
  • TRU will bring valuable expertise and capacity to help ensure that wildland fire training in B.C. steps forward hand in hand with developments in wildland fire science, associated natural sciences, social sciences and innovative approaches as TRU and BCWS work together to develop new courses and revise existing material.
  • As experts in learning, TRU will bolster the BCWS ability to take advantage of modern technology, new developments and best practices in education, and apply them with a wildfire-specific lens to training and education.
  • Respectfully including Indigenous knowledge in training materials and curriculum is an important component of collaboratively modernizing wildfire management and other natural hazard activities in B.C. TRU and the BCWS will work with additional partners and Nations to ensure that Indigenous knowledge is incorporated into training materials in a respectful and mutually beneficial way.