What would unfold as a live interview with CBC News encapsulated the tone of much of my Co-op experience with the Forest Service. It was unpredictable, fast-paced and an incredible skills-testing experience. Not to mention an affirmation of my fervor for crisis communication.
That day, the Southeast Fire Centre was abuzz with activity. My interview with CBC passed successfully, feeding the public with essential wildfire insights and fuelling me with the adrenaline to respond to the demanding month that lay ahead. One 100+ hectare fire led way to another, and another. Soon, it was the norm for me to spend 17 hours in the office, researching the latest wildfire updates from various sources on and off the fire line, responding to media requests, answering public phone calls, updating information lines, liaising with provincial headquarters, instating fire bans and learning to re-prioritize as my tasks and focus changed unexpectedly, every ten or so minutes.
Evenings, my roommate and I would brave the swarms of river moths on the tennis courts for a game or two, when her hours as a nursing student allowed. My three cell phones lay always within hearing distance, should reporters call to interview. At times, all three would ring simultaneously, and I would answer questions over telephone in between sets. My standby hours would keep me by my phones, in the vicinity and away from the town pub, until 10 p.m. nightly.
The longest period of consecutive days that I could work was nineteen days – with overtime aplenty – before I had to take three days of rest. Such a stretch occurred in July, the busiest wildfire month in BC of 2008. That adrenaline-fuelled period found me escorting camera crews over fires by helicopter, interviewing with television, radio and print upwards of twenty-five times daily and working continuously in order to maintain a steady flow of information from the fire lines to the public and to the Ministry of Forests and its many partners. By the end, naturally, I felt very much a part of this particular emergency communications lifestyle.
Working as a Fire Information Officer for the BC Forest Service proved to be the most dynamic, unpredictable, professionally validating experiences I had ever encountered. Was it challenging? Yes, absolutely. Adapting to a work climate built upon strict and sacred hierarchy, to the long, intense hours, adjusting to life in a smaller town: these all presented challenges to overcome. However, the opportunities that taking full advantage of this unique Co-op position afforded me were amazing. My work portfolio certainly thickened with references and interview clips. My self discipline has never been so honed. And finally, I have an appreciation for life in the West Kootenay, arguably the most beautiful area in the province. I have no doubt that fond memories of a whirlwind summer and an invaluable university experience will draw me back to the area in future.
Although, perhaps the next time I visit the hot, lush Kootenays will be on vacation, and minus a cell phone or two.
Beyond the Blog
- Missed part one of Adam's adventure's with BC Forest Service? Be sure to check out the entire series, Summer of Wildfires.