BCWS, TRU partner to create new training, research opportunities for wildfire fight

BCWS partners with TRU

UPDATE: 3:31 p.m.

Thompson Rivers University professor Mike Flannigan says Kamloops will become the centre of wildfire training, education and research following an announcement Thursday by B.C.'s premier.

“This is exciting, great news — I'm thrilled,” the BC Research Chair and world-recognized expert on wildfires told Castanet Kamloops.

Flannigan was one of the many in attendance Thursday when B.C. Premier David Eby announced on campus the post secondary institution will be home to the first-of-its-kind BC Wildfire Training and Education Centre — one of 31 recommendations spawned from the premier’s recently wrapped expert task force on emergencies.

The centre will include construction of a state-of-the-art training facility on campus, complementing TRU’s upstart Institute for Wildfire Science, Adaptation and Resiliency that opened in October 2023.

The university will partner with the BC Wildfire Service to train and educate firefighters and experts, and the centre will offer everything from basic training for wildland firefighters to post-doctoral work on fire science, Eby said.

He added that people will be able to earn credits towards an undergraduate degree in wildfire educational work and training from the new centre.

TRU will be the first school in Canada to offer an undergraduate degrees in fire studies, Flannigan said, noting there are some bachelor programs in the U.S.

He said the new program will expose more people to wildfire training and problem solving.

“We need people to work on fire, and they should be properly trained and educated,” he said, noting more land is being burned every fire season — a trend he expects will continue.

New facility will be built

Eby said program design is starting this year, and courses will launch as early as 2025 in existing TRU facilities.

The premier said the new facility will be constructed on campus, but details like where, when and how much it will cost have yet to be ironed out.

“The building itself will go through a design process and the tendering process, but there's no price tag yet because we're at the very earliest stages,” he said.

Flannigan said the research institute is currently housed in a building near the childhood education centre, and the new building will involve hiring more staff to deliver courses and training.

He said the BC Wildfire Service teaches more than 100 courses, and most of them will now be done at TRU thanks to the new centre. He said by partnering with the university, BCWS will upgrade their educational system.

“They are serious about recruiting and retaining people. They want a career path as opposed to traditionally hir[ing] a firefighter for the summer,” Flannigan said.

Thousands expected to register

B.C. Minister of Forests Bruce Ralston, who was also at the announcement, said the new centre at TRU will be an educational destination for people from around the world.

“Thompson Rivers University and Kamloops are perfect training grounds for people interested in wildland firefighting,” Ralston said, noting the community is home to B.C.’s wildfire headquarters.

“Opportunities for on the ground training are right on the doorstep.”

Starting this year, he said, the BC Wildlife Service will transition some of its existing training programs and courses into the centre’s new TRU curriculum.

By 2028-29, more than 1,000 workshops will be offered per year, which is expected to translate into 10,000 course registrations, he said.

“Those wishing to pursue higher education will have access to diploma and academic programs right here on campus. For example, the disciplines will include wildfire and climate science, behavioural science, predictive technologies, forest ecology, fire weather and First Nations history and cultural fire,” Ralston said.

The new program will initially be funded through enhanced BCWS training resources, introduced in the 2022 budget, according to a provincial press release.

Wildfire seasons getting worse

Eby noted the worsening trend of wildfire seasons in B.C., with some of the most destructive on record over the past three years and a lower than normal snowpack this spring around the province.

“Establishing this centre will ensure that we have the people with the skills that we need to respond to this continuing an evolving threat in British Columbia,” Eby said

Eby said he expects the new centre to be “world-leading” in terms of wildfire research and training.

UPDATE: 11:29 a.m.

Thompson Rivers University will play a key role in B.C.’s wildfire fight moving forward, following an announcement Thursday by Premier David Eby that the university will partner with the BC Wildfire Service to train and educate firefighters and experts.

Work to get the BC Wildfire Training and Education Centre off the ground is already underway, Eby said, and students could be enrolled by next year.

Eby said the need is obvious, pointing to last summer’s record-setting wildfire season in the province.

“We need to continue to show leadership to address these issues and do things better,” he said, surrounded on a stage at TRU by BCWS staffers.

"We owe a debt to the people standing here with me today but also to all British Columbians who live in communities threatened by wildfire.”

Eby said he expects the new centre to be “world-leading” in terms of wildfire research and training.

“This will be a first of its kind centre in North America, where people can earn credits for this type of work and training toward a degree,” he said.

"It will be a partnership between TRU and the BC Wildfire Service.”

Eby and TRU President Brett Fairbairn said the centre will offer everything from basic training for wildland firefighters to post-doctoral research.

ORIGINAL STORY: 10:55 a.m.

B.C. Premier David Eby is in Kamloops on the campus of Thompson Rivers University making an announcement regarding wildfire education.

Details are few, but the announcement is expected to be in regards to TRU’s upstart Institute of Wildfire Science, Adaptation and Resiliency, which received final approval in December from the university’s board of governors.

Eby and Bruce Ralston, B.C.’s minister of forests, will be on hand for the 11 a.m. announcement.

TRU officials have said they hope the new institute will position the university as an “international leader” in wildfire science.

The institute’s initial research team will be headed up by Mike Flannigan, a BC Research Chair and renowned expert on wildfires, as well as Jill Harvey, a Canada Research Chair in fire ecology, and Lauchlan Fraser, an NSERC Industrial Research Chair in ecosystem reclamation.

This story will be updated as more information becomes known.

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