Man On Fire
Posted: January 9, 2018
Forests Ontario’s #ItTakesAForest campaign highlights the many benefits that forests provide, including rewarding career opportunities. These are the professionals who ensure the care, protection, and sustainability of our forest resources. Below, we meet former forest firefighter Steve Cooper.
Tell us about yourself and your background.
I spent 4 years at Sir Sanford Fleming College for Outdoor Adventure Skills, Forestry Technician, and Urban Forestry and one year at Seneca College for Pre-service Firefighter. I’ve been with the Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve for three years as a combat engineer and currently work as a structural firefighter in Ontario. I spend my free time traveling, backpacking, fishing, hiking, and snowshoeing.
What made you decide to pursue a job in this field?
A buddy in college had done it the previous year and spoke really highly of it. He sent me and another friend in the right direction in terms of applying and we all ended up working for the Manitoba Conservation Fire program in different regions. We even crossed paths on some of the same fires in our fire seasons there.
It seemed like a really unique job with a lot of challenges. It definitely didn’t let me down and I loved every minute of it. In total, I worked five seasons holding the position of crew member then crew leader.
What are the requirements of doing this job?
Some provinces require the S-100 course before you apply, some provinces will train you to that level as long as you have other prerequisites. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have the S-100, S-102 or chainsaw course as well as Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG), WHMIS, restricted radio operator, bear awareness, first aid and bush experience.
What does it mean to you and why do you enjoy it?
I enjoyed the job immensely; there’s nothing better than working a forest fire. From the moment you’re dispatched, the helicopter ride, the initial attack, and mop up, it’s all a good time. The bond you form with your crew through the hard work and the swamps really is amazing and you learn to rely on each other, especially after working day after day on a busy fire season.
The tempo of work could be really challenging but you just get used to it and push on. It really built your confidence in leadership skills and teamwork. The job isn’t for everyone, but the people that you work with are top notch and that’s a big reason why you go back every year. No day was the same and usually when the fire season was about to begin I was already itching to get back at it. I just enjoyed pushing myself past my own limits and pushing others to do the same.
What does a “typical” day look like for you?
I worked on what’s known as a helitac base. We lived in bunkhouses and our gear and helicopters were just up the hill from us. A typical day would start with breakfast at 7 then heading to the “tack shack” for 8 to figure out what’s going on for the day, weather reports, crew movements, etc. After that the crews would get sent out for fitness and then after that jobs in town, or around the park or the base.
When not on fires we would do hose cleaning/testing, maintenance of gear or buildings, training, mowing lawns or anything else that needs to be done. If it was a busy fire season, we would be sent out to new fire start, do loaded patrols, resupply other crews already out on fires. You just never knew what the day was going to bring.
Days could be anywhere from 8 to 18 hours depending on the weather and the season. I had two really busy seasons, two really rainy seasons, and one in between season. Around noon we’d eat lunch at the kitchen and then continue working until 4:30 unless otherwise told. A crew would always have its gear on the helicopter and be close to base in case of a fire call. Where I worked, we had six crews of five people so there was no shortage of laughs in the day.