What does a typical day look like in your role?
My day will vary greatly between summer and winter. During the winter months, my primary focus will be working in the office, reviewing and updating the decision support models and associated data that is used in the Spatial Fire Management System (SFMS), the department’s primary pre-suppression planning tool.
I will be asked to review the fire behaviour prescriptions for prescribed burn plans and routinely get asked to review the fire behaviour components papers and reports for a variety of groups. I also spend considerable time preparing and assisting with the delivery of a number of Fire Behaviour related course to field staff.
During the summer months the focus of the job moves toward being deployed in the field, (anywhere across Alberta and occasionally other parts of Canada), providing fire behaviour forecasts and fire behaviour support for active wildfires and prescribed burning. In addition I will provide day to day support for SFMS to the field staff across the Province. As well, I will be asked to do fire behaviour projections using Prometheus, the Canadian Wildfire Growth Model.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
The job of fire behaviour forecasting is both an art and a science. To me, the most enjoyable part of the job is the challenges associated with trying to forecast what a wildfire will do under a variety of ever changing weather, fuel and topographic changes. Using the most updated science and computer models, with the art of using past experiences and observations, provides a very challenging task.
What are the skills and competencies required to be successful in your role?
When working within the area of fire management, I believe the most important trait you need is to have the personality and ability to work with people in a team environment. Almost all of our work is done in a team environment and if you don’t have the ability to work with other people, you can have all the technical skills in the world but you will likely have trouble succeeding.
The second skill you need is the knowledge and understanding of the fire environment and how it will affect fire behaviour. This is a skill that needs to be learned by not only training but actually observing wildfires in the field.
What helped you get to where you are today?
I believe having spent the first half of my career working in the forest in all aspects of forest and land management, not only fire management, gave me a very broad experience base which allows me to look at forest as a complete ecosystem.
Working in all areas not only helped me be technically capable but it exposed me to a number of situations which forced me to learn how to deal with people and issues. This was combined with the time and effort I have spent learning and understanding the use of the various computer systems and models which prepared me for this position.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing this field?
I think the most important advice I could offer is to spend as much time in the field as you can learning and understanding the forest environment. Spend time watching and observing wildfire behaviour and try to relate what is happening on a fire based on the fuel conditions, weather and topography. Even if you have decided to specialize in forest protection, spend time learning all facets of forest and land management. Increasing your awareness and understanding of these two areas will benefit you in understanding fire and its role on our landscapes.
Updated: May 16, 2013