Algonquin College Forestry Technician Student Nicole Ross spent two weeks under the tutelage of Steven Kruschenske, the Wildland Fire Coordinator with the National Defence Fire Services at Garrison Petawawa. (Photo by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)

Learning to fight forest fires at Grn Petawawa

By Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Thursday, June 8, 2017

As part of her Forestry Technician program, Algonquin College student Nicole Ross worked alongside members of the National Defence Fire Services at Garrison Petawawa, learning the unique circumstances and dangers of wilderness fires on a military base.

She studied the basics about wildfires through school but learned so much more from Steven Kruschenske, Wildland Fire Coordinator.

“I find that it is a lot easier to learn from somebody who has actually done it instead of from a book,” said Ross, 23. “I didn’t expect to go into so much detail and actually be so interested in how a forest fire can run.”

The Garrison has unique challenges.

The area is covered primarily with sand and has groves of Jack pines, which are very susceptible to fire from lightning strikes. The training ranges are prone to fires started by sparks from gunfire or hot casings. When in areas where there may be unexploded ordnance, the fire department must also follow certain procedures and keep strictly to the roads in order to keep themselves safe.

“A lot of the fires are in the impact area,” said Kruschenske, “so there are some other steps or precautions that you have to take for safety.

“It bumps up against Algonquin Park so there is no hunting or fishing here,” he added. “So it is unique in that sense too. There is also a lot of wildlife present.”

To mitigate any issues with out-of- control burning, the fire department sets controlled burns, getting rid of any potentially dangerous underbrush. This year they’ve only done 400 hectares of prescribed burning due to heavy spring rainfall, compared to last year’s 2,000.

Though both agree that it would have been better hands-on experience to tend to more fires, it was still a great learning experience.

“It was still good for a quiet time,” said Kruschenske. “I tried to balance a little bit of training that she may not have had.”

It was also an important opportunity for Ross to get some real-world experience and network with others in her future trade - she hopes to one day be involved in fire prevention and fire fighting.

“It helps open up so many opportunities,” she said. “I got to meet so many different people and hear their stories.”

Ross is the third student doing a field placement under Kruschenske’s tutelage. He was originally approached by one of the professors at the college three years ago; as a graduate of the same course at the same school thirty years ago, he has the expertise and necessary skills required to take on a student.

“As long as I’m here and it is OK by DND, I’ll carry on,” said Kruschenske. “It is a good partnership with Algonquin College being so close.”