Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Canadian Wildfire Conference brings together ground and air leaders in Kelowna

By CFF Staff   

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About 250 vendors and attendees came together for a new national wildfire conference co-hosted by Canadian Firefighter. Photo credit: Anastasia Ivanaviv

Nov. 3, 2023, Kelowna, B.C. – The inaugural Canadian Wildfire Conference took place in Kelowna, B.C., on Oct. 26 at the KF Aerospace Centre for Excellence. Around 250 vendors and attendees gathered for the first Canadian Wildfire Conference, which is an expanded program of the Aerial Firefighting Conference, hosted by Wings and Helicopters magazine for the past three years. The newly named, re-envisioned conference highlights a partnership between these aviation media brands and Fire Fighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter, which are all brands owned by Annex Business Media. The goal of this expanded partnership is to provide a unique national platform to unite leaders in ground and air wildfire suppression.

The Canadian Wildfire Conference featured 50 booths and multiple air and ground vehicles for wildfire suppression positioned on the KF Centre ramp. The static display included a truck from Perimeter Solutions highlighting ground applications for long-term fire retardants as a resource when aerial solutions are not available at night, Safetek Profire’s Wildland 3 and Commercial Emergency Equipment was showcasing BME Fire Truck’s Sawtooth Type 6 Extreme Wildland Apparatus. There were also two wildfire protection trailers. Aviation included a Super Puma AS332 Firecat from Coldstream Helicopters, Kodiak 900 from Daher Aerospace, and a Coulson Aviation modified Boeing 737-300 owned by the Argentine Government of Santiego Del Estero. Just weeks away from certification and delivery, the 737-300 is currently the largest airtanker in Canada with a payload of 15,141 litres.

On October 25, the evening prior, organizers of the conference welcomed 150 leaders from ground and air services who have been on the frontlines or working tirelessly throughout a record-breaking wildfire season in Canada for an inaugural Appreciation Dinner. Sponsored in part by Waterax, the dinner at the Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna also served as a fundraiser for SickNotWeak, an organization dedicated to providing mental health awareness. The evening included a keynote presentation by broadcasting personality Michael Landsberg, who is the founder of SickNotWeak.

The expanded 2023 wildfire conference program on October 26, running under the moniker of Uniting Ground and Air, proved to be a success and more importantly, a noticeable day of discussions between air, ground and government agencies. The day began with an air and ground interoperability panel featuring Michael Benson, director of business development, Conair Group; Sean Rickards, director of operations, Yellowhead Helicopters; Greg Adams, air attack officer, BC Wildfire Service; and retired Hope B.C., Fire Chief Tom DeSorcy.


Topics of the interoperability panel ranged from labour issues and cross training to creating clearer communications and the prospect of developing a national wildfire force. The latter issue did not hold much weight with the panelists, who cited a range of logistical issues, but all agreed Federal support for additional capacity and resources is key. Indeed, the 2023 wildfire season, noted as the worst in Canada’s history, could have been even more devastating if it was not for a lack of wildfires in the U.S. over 2023.

The interop panel was followed by a session called Deploying Resources for Structure Protection with speakers Scott Cronquist, structure protection specialist, SPS-138 Wildfire Service, Ministry of Forests, and Brittany Seibert, emergency program coordinator, City of Penticton. They went through a range of advances and strategies being deployed, including a look a massive water systems and tactics to deal with ever more aggressive wildfires.

The afternoon began with a second panel discussion on innovation and advanced tactics for wildfire suppression, featuring Wayne Coulson, CEO of Coulson Group; Thomas Hoppe, owner of drone operation 43 Degrees North; and Mike King, chief pilot of White Saddle Air. It is clear to see why Canada holds one of the world’s elite wildfire fighting forces, as the discussion ranged from fighting fires from the air at night – a unique capability in the world led by Coulson in the U.S. – and pinpoint drops via GPS positioning to early warning systems and advances in Helco training operations.

Paul Fletcher and Hope Nelson of Drone Amplified finished up the day with a technical session on using IGNIS for aerial ignition. The integration of drones into wildfire suppression activities was a common theme throughout the day, although it is primarily saved for imaging and mapping in the current theatre.

The success of the new Canadian Wildfire Conference platform was in large part led by its committed sponsors, including: Venue Sponsor KF Aerospace Centre for Excellence; Platinum Sponsors Perimeter Solutions and Safetek Profire; Gold Sponsor Airbus; Silver Sponsors Bell Textron Canada, Canadian Propeller, Conair Group, Consolidated Turbine Specialists De Havilland Aircraft of Canada, Motion and Vallfirest; and event specialty sponsors Commercial Emergency Equipment and Portage Aircraft.

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