Insights From the 2024 Wildfire Resiliency and Training Summit

FireSmart BC and our partners recently hosted the 2024 Wildfire Resiliency and Training Summit from April 20th to 24th in Prince George, BC. This important five-day event brought wildfire professionals together from across BC and beyond to learn, share their knowledge, and build connections to strengthen wildfire resilience across the province. With two days of training and three days of keynote speakers, workshops, and panel presentations, we explored how to prepare BC homes, communities, and landscapes for future wildfire activity. 

An Important Acknowledgement

Before exploring the events, insights, and lessons learned from the Summit, we acknowledge, with gratitude, that the event took place on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, part of the Dakelh (Carrier) peoples territory. We are truly grateful to have received a traditional welcome message from Councillor Robert Gagnon of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation to kick off the training and conference portions of the Summit. We also want to thank the UHNBC Prince George Traditional Drummers for their welcome ceremony that took place on day two of the conferences. 

This Year’s Theme

Our theme for this year was Recover, Rebuild, Prepare. As BC continues to recover from the worst wildfire season on record, we wanted to bring together more than 700 firefighting professionals, FireSmart experts, and Indigenous, municipal, and community leaders to review the lessons learned from 2023 alongside the latest research, technologies, and best practices to help regions and communities prepare for another challenging wildfire season. Since collaboration and sharing information will be critical in keeping BC communities safe, the Summit was designed to serve as a valuable opportunity to achieve both objectives. 

With so many keynote speaker presentations, expert panels, breakout sessions, workshops, and training programs, the Summit provided value for all attendees. Since there was so much packed into five days, we wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the key events that made this event such a success. 

Training Sessions

This year, the Summit kicked off with two days of hands-on training for wildfire professionals. Here, courses were divided into leadership and operations categories, allowing participants to select the training best suited to their role. Training session topics included:

  • Task Force/Strike Team Leader
  • Emergency Operations Centre
  • Structure Protection Base/Staging Manager
  • Large Water Supply Operations (Structure Protection)
  • Wildland Structure Protection Program
  • Wildland Firefighter – 1 “Train the Trainer”
  • Engine Boss
  • Wildfire Operations “Boots on the Ground”

Keynote Presentations

There were a total of five keynote speaker presentations at the 2024 Wildfire Resiliency and Training Summit, each focusing on a different topic from the world of wildfire. Presentations included:

Fire Weather 101

This presentation was delivered by Matt MacDonald, Lead Fire Weather Forecaster for the Predictive Services Unit of the BC Wildfire Service. Here, he explained how weather conditions create and drive wildland fire environments. Matt also outlined the basics of fire meteorology and the Fire Behaviour Prediction System to enable structural firefighters to more effectively aid in the response to wildland fires.  

Achieving Resilience in the Face of Fire

As the Wildfire Prevention Officer for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables in Nova Scotia, Kara McCurdy provided some unique insights into wildfire resilience. After reflecting on the difficulties experienced by Nova Scotia during the 2023 wildfire season, Kara explored how we might improve wildfire resiliency through out-of-the-box thinking and more collaborative approaches with communities. 

2023 Northwest Territories and the Way Forward

For this presentation, attendees heard from Westly Steed, the Wildfire Risk Management Coordinator for the Government of the Northwest Territories and Mike Westwick, the Manager of Prevention and Mitigation for the Government of the Northwest Territories. Like British Columbia, the Northwest Territories experienced the most severe wildfire season in their history in 2023. Westly and Mike give an overview of how they’re helping communities learn to live with wildfire by driving the seven FireSmart disciplines forward across the territory. 

Supporting Dynamic and Proactive Fire Management in British Columbia

In BC, four of the most impactful wildfire seasons on record have occurred within the past seven years. As wildfire impacts grow under a rapidly changing climate, we must learn how to proactively manage wildfires. Dr. Kira Hoffman, a Postdoctoral Researcher for the University of British Columbia and Bulkley Valley Research Centre explored how we might achieve this through her presentation. 

Wildland Fire Management in Canada

Wildland fires are a serious issue for all Canadians. That’s why Mike Norton, Director General of the Northern Forestry Centre for Natural Resources Canada provided an overview of the activities taking place to transform wildland fire management in Canada. This included insights into approaches centred around whole-of-society engagement and Government of Canada investments to support wildland fire response, prevention, and mitigation efforts. 

Expert Panels

In addition to the keynote presentations, there were five panel discussions throughout the duration of the Summit. Each panel offered an opportunity for open-forum discussion among topic experts as well as thorough Q&A sessions for attendees to learn more about important subjects. Panel topics included:

Fire Services and First Nations: Moving Forward in a Good Way

Through this panel, the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society outlined skills that support strong relationships between fire services and Indigenous communities during response efforts. 

Executive Panel: Recover, Rebuild, Prepare

Here, attendees heard from senior executives in emergency management organizations and local government as they discussed the recovery and rebuilding efforts following the unprecedented wildfires of 2023. 

FireSmart Marketing and Communications

This panel offered a variety of perspectives on the unique challenges and opportunities that come with marketing and communications campaigns for wildfire prevention, mitigation, and response. 

Community Recovery

What happens after a disaster has ended? This panel focused on community recovery efforts and featured insights from experts who have been through the recovery process themselves. 

Reflections on the Emergency Response in BC

The 2023 wildfire season was the most destructive in BC’s recorded history. Through this panel, emergency experts came together to share their experiences and discuss actionable recommendations for 2024. 

Breakout Sessions

Scheduled between keynote presentations and panel discussions, a variety of breakout sessions allowed attendees to learn more about important topics and collaborate with other professionals in their field. Key topics covered through the 20 breakout sessions included:

  • Accessing FireSmart Community Funding & Support
  • FireSmart for Rural Communities, Farms, and Ranches
  • Practical Guidance to Strengthen Wildfire Resilience
  • Fuel Treatment Research
  • Defensible Building Design
  • Collaborating for FireSmart Communities
  • Insights on FireSmart Landscaping
  • Starting FireSmart — Indigenous Community Project Guide
  • BC’s New Emergency and Disaster Management Act
  • Learning from Post-Fire Examinations

Recognizing Outstanding Individuals

In addition to being a place for wildfire professionals to collaborate, connect, and learn, the Wildfire Resiliency and Training Summit served as the perfect opportunity to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions in the world of wildfire resilience. To celebrate these individuals, the Summit featured two award presentations: one for the Lynn Orstad Award, and one for the inaugural BC Wildland Firefighter Awards. 

The Lynn Orstad Award

In memory of Lynn Orstad—a female trailblazer in wildfire risk mitigation—FireSmart BC, FireSmart Alberta, and Co-operators came together to recognize women who have contributed to furthering wildfire resiliency in their community, agency, or province. The Lynn Orstad Award – Women in Wildfire Resiliency is an annual award honouring women who have made significant contributions in wildfire resilience and advocacy efforts. This year, five outstanding women in the world of wildfire resilience were presented with the Lynn Orstad Award:

  • Kelsey Winter — Manager of Wildfire Operations, FPInnovations
  • Kara McCurdy — Wildfire Mitigation Program Manager, Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency
  • Cathy MacKenzie — Wildfire Mitigation Specialist, First Nations’ Emergency Services Society
  • Laura Stewart — FireSmart Specialist, Government of Alberta
  • Melanie Stutt — Emergency Coordinator, Simpcw First Nation and Deputy Fire Chief, Chu Chua Volunteer Fire Department

The BC Wildland Firefighter Awards

In recognition of the critical role wildland firefighters play in keeping the province safe, FireSmart BC, the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society, and BC Wildfire Service partnered to create the new BC Wildland Firefighter Awards. Through these awards, we seek to recognize outstanding wildland firefighters every year. At this year’s Wildfire Resiliency and Training Summit, the inaugural awards were presented to:

  • John Salewski — Wildfire Officer, BC Wildfire Service
  • Dr. Sonja Leverkus — Founder and Senior Fire Lead, Fire WoRx
  • Patrick Andrew — Crew Leader, Nicola Knights Unit Crew
  • Darryl Adrian — Emergency Management Coordinator, Lillooet Tribal Council
  • Chad Desjarlais — Crew Leader, Rider Ventures Ltd.

Reflecting on This Year’s Summit

With more than 700 firefighting professionals, FireSmart experts, and municipal, Indigenous, and community leaders in attendance, the 2024 Wildfire Resiliency and Training Summit was a massive success in terms of building teamwork, developing interagency cooperation, and sharing information related to wildfire resilience. According to our post-event survey, over 75% of attendees would strongly recommend attending the Summit to others. We were even fortunate enough to have MLA: Hon. Bruce Ralston—BC’s Minister of Forests—in attendance for a portion of the training sessions, where he was able to see the active field training and tour the Summit experience in Prince George. We’re grateful for this reception, and look forward to future Summits to further enhance the wildfire resilience of our communities.

As we continue to recover, rebuild, and prepare, we truly believe that the Wildfire Resiliency and Training Summit will make a significant difference in wildfire resilience throughout BC and beyond. In a field where collaboration is crucial, the Summit provides an excellent opportunity for people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and areas of expertise to come together, learn, connect, and share their knowledge in the pursuit of a more resilient future. 

Thank you to everyone who came together to make this event a reality. We hope to see even more professionals, experts, and leaders in attendance next year from April 12-16 for the 2025 Wildfire Resiliency and Training Summit in Penticton!

Sparking Fire Safety Awareness Through Indigenous Artistry

Fashion isn’t generally a hot topic at the annual FireSmart Wildfire Resiliency and Training Summit, but this year, one accessory had everyone buzzing. Attendees couldn’t...

Read More Go arrow