Natives Compete for Métis Fire Fighter Position

By Mark Elyas

After the firestorm of 2003 that ravaged the British Columbia interior, the Métis Nation B.C. wished to contribute to the forest fire-fighting efforts. The British Columbia Métis Assembly of Natural Resources, under the direction of their forestry program, hired a professional Métis fire fighter, who fought in the Oregon, Kelowna, Jackson Hole, and Cranbrook fires. His job was to construct a camp that would produce a highly trained, professional team of firefighters.

This team was named the Red River Rangers, after Manitoba’s famous river, the hub of the Métis homeland. This 20-person team is trained in wildland and interface fire fighting. Their purpose is to bridge the gap between wildland fires and the structural devastation that was experienced in Kelowna in the summer of 2003.

Every year since 2003, Métis candidates from all over B.C. compete for one of 20 positions on the elite Red River Rangers team. Team selection is based on leadership skills, physical fitness, safety, experience and attitude. The competition to become a full-pledged member on the Red River Rangers Unit Crew involves a four-step elimination process:

1. The first cut is the application process, where all interested candidates must complete the standard Red River Rangers Application form. A review team rates the applications and invites successful applicants to participate in a one-week boot camp.

2. The second cut is based on physical fitness. On the first day of the weeklong boot camp, all the candidates must complete a physical fitness qualification test. Even veteran Rangers have to complete the required test. Those who do not pass the test are immediately cut.

3. The third cuts happen during the remaining six days of boot camp. Upon completing the physical fitness test, the successful candidates are then asked to participate in the remaining six days of boot camp.

This boot camp consists of extreme physical activity; sleep deprivation, camp living conditions, unfavorable weather, classroom training, team building, and a professional fire-fighting command structure.

The applicants are continuously assessed and evaluated, and cut during these six days, based on very strict criteria. Upon the completion of the weeklong boot camp, each applicant will have earned two or three certifications.

4. The fourth cuts happen during and after a two-week long training camp. During this period, applicants will live in camp-like conditions and continue to train as an advanced team of Wildland/Interface fire fighters. When the training camp is completed, the command staff will conduct a final evaluation.

All remaining candidates are notified of their status for the upcoming fire season. There are three possibilities: an invitation to become a Red River Ranger; or a designation to the Red River Rangers stand-by list; or cut.

Current contracts the Red River Rangers hold include a standing offer with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, a secured position as one of the programs that can deploy the Urban Interface Sprinkler Protection Units for the Office of the Fire Commissioner and the British Columbia Unions of Municipalities.

The Rangers are also negotiating a “Memorandum of Understanding” with a large heavy equipment supplier from Calgary, Alberta. This would train the Red River Rangers to operate some of the latest technology for personnel, water and fireline heavy equipment transport.

In the 2005 forest fire-fighting season, the Red River Rangers were deployed to fight several fires near Vanderhoof, B.C., including the Chinlak and the 12,500 hectares Tatuk Lake fires.