Firefighting demo highlights Forest Service 100th anniversary bash

A 100 thbirthday is always worth a party. But not many parties marking a century have rapattack crews and forest fire air tankers.

The B.C. Forest Service invited 600 of its current and past staff to a gathering at the Kamloops Fire Centre on Friday.

Jeff Berry, superintendent of the Provincial Air Tanker Centre, said the event was about gathering generations of forest service workers and coming together as a family.

"It's amazing. I wonder how many organizations are 100 years old," he said.

People brought artifacts and stories to share. Stories that were being recorded on tape, or on paper, or on videotape, to go into archives and be shared with future generations.

Berry was involved with organizing the big birthday bash. So was John Flanagan, who is retiring soon from his forest service career.

The stories being shared will be put into a time capsule that won't be opened until 2062, when the forest service turns 150, he said.

"So they're writing the history of their crew, what the training was like, maybe their shoulder flashes (some designed their own)," he said.

The capsule will be kept in a glass display at the co-ordination centre.

Flanagan said memories that were brought up Friday included a 1931 pencil policy, which went out on forest service radiogram letterhead.

The policy stated regular staff could be issued two mechanical pencils per year - their choice of lead thickness - or six regular pencils.

Flanagan smiled at the thought of that policy being around today.

The B.C. Forest Service was established in 1912. It didn't have aerial attack abilities until 1918, when a plane was purchased. But it crashed in North Vancouver on its first flight and the service has been contracting aircraft ever since, Flanagan said.

Soon after he spoke, a demonstration of how those air crews work took over the tarmac at the Kamloops airport.

A bird dog circled overhead, mapping out the route for the air tanker carrying 11,365 litres of retardant, to follow.

After a couple of passes to make sure the route was confirmed and all the safety concerns were met, the tanker dropped down to 1,200 feet and dumped one-third of its load.

A second drop was made, even lower, spraying the ground with the remainder of the retardant.

Then the rapattack crew showed their skills.

B.C. has 12 three-person rappel crews based in Salmon Arm.

One crew flew up in a helicopter, which then hovered near the tarmac while, one at a time, the firefighters rappelled down to the ground just as they would in a fire situation.

Their firefighting equipment was lowered to them afterward. Then the helicopter flew off, loaded up with water and showed how it could do a belly drop to fight fires, too.

Berry said the demonstrations weren't a big expense to add to the party.

"We have to practice anyway."

Their practice was the icing on the birthday cake.

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