Locals are taking fire suppression training this week thanks to tuition-free courses offered at the College of New Caledonia’s Burns Lake campus. Photo courtesy College of New Caledonia.

Locals are taking fire suppression training this week thanks to tuition-free courses offered at the College of New Caledonia’s Burns Lake campus. Photo courtesy College of New Caledonia.

Locals trained to assist in fighting wildfires in and around Burns Lake

Training courses offered tuition-free by the College of New Caledonia

Upwards of 50 local residents are to have graduated by the end of this week from fire suppression training, making them eligible for employment within the demand for wildfire firefighters in the area.

Tuition-free courses were offered this week by the College of New Caledonia’s (CNC) Burns Lake campus in response to local requests, says the college’s regional principal.

“We were able to respond quickly,” said George. “I’m really proud of the team. They really pulled together,” she said of coordination between the Burns Lake campus and the CNC campus in Prince George.

Although the intent was to set class sizes at 16, overwhelming demand lead to the instructor rearranging matters so more people could be allowed in.

Within 24 hours of the first Facebook posting about the training, there were 200 ‘shares;.

“The first day we had 20 people in the corridor waiting,” said George of those wanting to participate in a class that was already at the maximum.

And that there would be no tuition was an easy decision for the college to make given the number and size of wildfires in the area which have resulted in a tremendous demand on fire-fighting resources, she said.

Eligibility requirements included being physically fit enough to handle the demands of working in an environment requiring the handling of equipment correctly and safely and being aware of the situation when dealing with wildfires.

There was a combination of classroom and practical experience.

B.C. Wildfire Service information officer Peter Goode, speaking from Smithers, said the service can call on more than 2,500 private contractors if and when needed.

“When our own personnel are stretched to capacity, we can call on other resources from our local contractor crews or from national and international partners,” he added.

“Local people can also contact their local fire fighting contractors who may be looking to hire more fire fighters. Contractors likely would prefer already trained / certified personnel such as those coming out of New Caledonia.”

In addition, the college is acting as the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako’s Burns Lake center for emegency services and evacuee registration and information, an additional measure George said CNC is happy to provide.

Five students involved with its camp cook program, under the direction of instructor Leon Leween, have also been busy preparing lunches at the campus for those involved with the emergency services centre.

“It all means this is a very busy place,” said George.

Leween himself became an evacuee when wildfires grew to a threatening level on the Southside.

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