By Brieanna Charlebois
April 7, 2020 — The Wildland Urban Interface Symposium provides education for interagency coordination between the BC Wildfire Service and municipal firefighters.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Wildland Urban Interface symposium (WUI) was set to take place from May 1-3 in Penticton, B.C.
While the event has been postponed (date not yet announced), organizer and Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson said it is expected to return next year. Fire Fighting in Canada spoke to Watkinson prior to the event being postponed due to COVID-19.
This year’s event would have been the third WUI Symposium. It took place for the first time in the spring of 2018. Watkinson said the idea came after the 2017 wildfire season, one of the worst seasons in recent B.C. wildfire history.
“We really wanted to focus on the mechanics behind interagency agreements,” Watkinson explained. “The BC Wildfire Service working with structural municipal firefighters wasn’t that synergized before and we wanted to help bridge that.”
The event has grown and gained more traction each year.
The first symposium took place over two days and focused on teaching attendees basic command and control presence, initial attack, and wildland fire fighting for structural firefighters. The next year, Watkinson said, organizers invited guests to audit the symposium’s curriculum so organizers could then make adjustments for this year’s event.
Participants were set to take part in a simulated wildfire experience that would allow for context training for the upcoming wildfire season. This was to include the first ever conference featuring Orange Country Fire Authority and New South Wales Rural Fire Services delivering, fundamentals on leadership and operations in the WUI environment. Then, the conference was to continue through the weekend and offer various courses including task force leadership, engine-boss operations (now a provincial standard for a minimum of one qualified on an apparatus attending a wildfire), wildfire behaviour, working with aircraft, Incident and organizational management.
Watkinson said registration filled up within a week with over 250 firefighters from over 50 different municipalities in B.C. planning to attend. The event carried a registration cost of $200 and included breakfasts and lunches. Their intention, he said, was to make it affordable for departments with smaller budgets.
“The province has also really come to the table to support us financially,” he said. “[The province] wanted to contribute to that and take some of the curriculum and build it into provincial standard so when they so that when we do go out on deployments with municipal fire departments throughout B.C., they have a better understanding of exactly what strategy and tactics are going to be used, how to respond to and report to a wildland urban interface situation outside their own municipality working within the BC fire service incident command system.”
This financial aid included a grant of $25,000 from the Community Emergency Awareness Fund. Organizers explained the money is allocated to help cover costs for the conference and symposium and allowed for a reduction in registration fees.
Watkinson said that over the past two years the WUI symposium was very well received. Its purpose, he asserted, is to promote safety in the face of wildfires.
“It’s a bit of an unknown for structural municipal firefighters to go out on wildfire deployments,” he said.
“In a lot of cases so to put them out of their comfort zone by throwing them in the middle of the wildland urban interface, so giving them an understand and a sense of how to communicate and what to expect, understanding the incident command the safety measures that are in place, it’s brought a huge level of professionalism when we go on these deployments and it certainly seems to be working a lot better in terms of integrating with the BC Wildfire Service.”
The WUI symposium is sure to be missed this year and readers are encouraged to stay tuned for next year’s date.