Robert Lomavatu explains how to use a pump to members of the Riske Creek community, who took the two day basic S100 firefighting course in Riske Creek April 5 and 6.

Riske Creek residents take wildfire fighting course

Williams Lake Rotary club sponsers S100 courses for rural communities

Coiling hose, and examining the workings of a water pump, a group of nine Riske Creek residents gathered at the old Riske Creek school last week to take an S100 basic fire suppression and safety course.

Thanks to the Rotary Club of Williams Lake, who received a $16,000 donation from the rotary district, as well as an additional $20,000 from other local organizations, locals from Riske Creek, Tatla Lake, Alexis Creek and Anahim Lake are able to take the course.

The money is also going towards supporting the communities, none of which have fire departments, with pump units, 1,500 feet of hose, nozzles, connections, six shovels, six pulaskis, three backpack pumps and new personal protection gear.

“After what we went through last year it was imperative that we learn a little more technical stuff about it rather than just what I considered to be learning on the fly, which are sometimes not necessarily the best practices,” said participant and Riske Creek resident Tom Wittal.

“It was just a good opportunity to learn the proper techniques.”

Read more: Cariboo Rotary clubs receive $64,000 for wildfire recovery projects

Riske Creek residents were among many rural communities threatened by fire during the summer of 2017, and one of many where local residents banded together to save their properties.

The S100 course trains participants in basic fire safety, fire behaviour, and how to operate pumps and hoses.

“You learn how to use fire equipment, identify hazards, you learn air tanker and helicopter protocol,” said trainer Jason Ward.

“If you have a desire to help contribute, this is the basic provincial certification to work on a fire line.”

The goal, said organizer and Rotary member Guenter Weckerle, was to provide residents with something that benefits the areas of the Cariboo Chilcotin impacted by fires.

“We wanted to try and make something relatively sustainable and we were able to leverage the district’s $16,000 into about $35,000.”

While the training had to be held inside because of a snowstorm, BC Wildfire Service unit crew, the Ravens, assisted with showing the residents their tricks of the trade. The course combines classroom theory, as well as has a practical session to make sure those who take the course know what they are doing.

“It’s wise to take this course, especially with last summer still fresh in everyone’s mind,” said Ward.

“Even in a typical year it’s going to get your head in the game and refresh you for the year ahead. You have an idea of what might happen on any given day.”

Read more: Category 3 fires to be banned in Cariboo Fire Centre starting April 23

For the residents of Riske Creek who were at the training, the course and the equipment is invaluable.

“It allows us to at least respond before anybody gets here, and then we can have a little bit of defense on hand,” said Raylene Poffenroth.

“It’s everything for a small community, everybody has bits and pieces [of equipment] in their back yards and their shops, but to have something that you can just go and grab as a unit is important.”

“It’s pretty phenomenal,” added Brittany Wittal.

The rural community currently doesn’t have a fire department, and, when fire threatened the community they did what they could to hold the fire back — sometimes despite official evacuation orders.

“Now we can keep cooler heads because we now have greater experience and we have more training and more equipment,” said Mike Elvin, who calls himself a “Riske Creek rebel” after defying evacuation orders.

He hopes the training will mean that in future fires they won’t have to disobey orders and will be allowed to stay to protect their properties.

“This is fantastic what Guenter [and Rotary] is providing,” said Will Street.

Read more: Riske Creek ranchers go it alone in fight against dangerous wildfire


Brittany Wittal rolls a hose using proper technique while Ravens unit crew member Bradley Jimmie supervises.

Brodie Yanko takes care learning how to roll up a hose in the S100 basic fire fighting course held in Riske Creek last Friday. The course was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Williams Lake and is one of four to be held in rural communities thanks to the club, who is also providing fire fighting equipment to go with the courses. Tara Sprickerhoff photo.

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