Firefighters get special tools for urban forest fires
By Angela MacKenzie - Staff Reporter
Firefighters are ready to battle urban forest fires, says Coquitlam Fire Chief Gord Buchanan.
"The probability of a forest fire or a wild land fire is relatively low in our region," Buchanan said. "But, of course, the consequences are high, being that we're more heavily populated and there are more structures."
The department is in a heightened state of alertness, he told The NOW Monday, with firefighters equipped with the latest in technology and training.
"We've created a special instructor/response group of ex-forestry firefighters," Buchanan said. "They provide us with expert advice for prevention measures, training and at the scene of an emergency as technical specialists."
Several members of the special response team have high-level training in fighting forest fires, Buchanan said, and they can be paged to respond to emergencies.
The entire department has also received updated training on how to fight forest fires, which differs from fighting the structural fires that are more common in urban areas.
"As a forestry firefighter, you're not dealing with a confined fire," Buchanan said. "A forestry fire can run on you a lot quicker and the techniques for fighting that fire are different."
The department is in the process of completing tours of community parks and forested areas, and has updated and reviewed its operational guidelines. It has also signed an automatic aid agreement with Port Coquitlam.
Technology will also play a role in helping to battle potential outbreaks. Firefighters are now able to pull up printable zone maps on laptops in their vehicles. They can see a specific area's topography, including slopes, access areas and special hazards.
The department is also in the process of purchasing compressed air pumps for environmentally friendly Class A foam.
"What that does is enhance water's ability to put out fire by absorbing more BTUs and absorbing the heat - that's how water puts out fire," Buchanan said. "It removes the heat and Class A foam enhances that by many times so you don't have to have nearly as much water."
Emergency support vehicles or ATVs are also located at the Mariner and Town Centre fire halls.
"They're loaded on trailers for initial fast-attack units," Buchanan said. "They're like little golf carts - they're four-by-four - and they're loaded with forestry fighting equipment, chainsaws, hoses, pump fittings, all those sorts of things so they can be deployed quickly when the fire is small."
If the fire is too large to be handled by the emergency all-terrain vehicles, he said, firefighters will be able to relay information via radio back to the fire hall to bring in appropriate equipment or notify the Ministry of Forests.
Coquitlam firefighters have also launched a public awareness campaign to help residents prevent fires.
The Coquitlam fire chief received approval earlier this month from city council to relax Coquitlam's water conservation bylaw to allow the fire department for a minimum of three days to override limits to residential sprinkling in areas where a fire hazard rating has been set at "extreme."
In April, the Port Moody and Port Coquitlam fire departments also began gearing up for the potentially dangerous summer fire season.
Heavily wooded areas in Port Moody at risk for urban forest fires include Chineside Park, Belcarra Regional Park, Bert Flinn Park and the Heritage Mountain area. In Port Coquitlam, firefighters are keeping an eye on areas such as Hyde Creek.
The Ministry of Forests was reporting 11 wildfires in B.C.'s Coastal Centre region as of Monday - seven of those caused by human activity - with 604 hectares burned. A total of 255 fires are burning in the province.
- Information for residents on fire prevention is available on the City of Coquitlam website at www.coquitlam.ca.