A Swedish flag flies alongside the Maple Leaf at McQueen Lake Environmental Education Centre, a show of respect for a group of young firefighters 7,000 kilometres from home.
For the third year running, Kamloops firefighting contractors are training students from Sweden, renting the school district facility as a wilderness base.
“They don’t have a lot of mountains,” explained Doug Richardson, a wildland fire instructor who serves as training facilitator. B.C. offers high, steep and dry terrain suitable for training, and firefighters here have an international reputation for expertise, he noted.
In Sweden, they start them early. The group of 36 youths — more women then men — are aged 16 to 19. They’re not greenhorns, though. They undergo three years of wildland training followed by two years of structural fire training.
“They’ve basically been emergency/disaster trained,” which includes slope training, rappelling and underwater diving. “They’re not only deep-sea divers, they’re deep-sea rescuers.”
Half of the youths train outdoors while another group receives classroom instruction at the centre.
“We talk a lot about urban interface issues, and Kamloops is just great for that,” Richarson said, reeling off a list of wildfires that have threatened urban areas over the past decade.
Cultural experience is part of the training, he added. Some students may wind up working for the International Red Cross, for example.
Marcus Hirsch and Robert Soderqvist, both 19, were among eight top-notch firefighters selected for a week of dive training in Egypt recently. They’re savouring the experience of Canadian wilderness as well.
“It’s pretty much like Sweden,” Hirsch said. “Except it’s a little bit bigger,” he chuckled.
“I had plans for moving to Canada,” Soderqvist said. “Seriously now. We’ll see in a couple of years. I’d really like to be here.”
The training program enjoys support from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, the City and the Whispering Pines Indian Band.
“They’ve got a great firefighting company and I’ve done a lot of training with them over the years,” Richardson said.
One lesson that never ends is safety.
“One of the things we tell them on the first day: If five guys go out firefighting and one is injured, then the four others have to take care of him. Who looks after the fire? So what’s the game?”
The Swedes continue to train at McQueen Lake through the weekend before heading to Great Falls, MT next week for structural and swift-water instruction.