TRU Wildfire reflects urgent need to adapt and mitigate effects of wildfires

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Wildfire preparedness, from basic training to postdoctoral research, is coming to Kamloops thanks to a new partnership between Thompson Rivers University and the B.C. Wildfire Service.

Last week, I had the honour of standing alongside B.C. Premier David Eby and Minister of Forests Bruce Ralston as they announced a broad, collaborative effort with TRU to address the unprecedented impact of wildfire on our communities.

Specifically, TRU and the BCWS are establishing a unique partnership to develop new research, education, training, and innovation opportunities in addressing wildfires and their impacts on communities.

This B.C. Wildfire training and education centre will be the first of its kind in North America and is a flagship action stemming from recommendations from the premier’s Task Force on Emergencies.

The premier and Ralston described the new centre as a state-of-the-art facility located right here at TRU to train wildland firefighters, communities and students. The centre will include renewing BCWS training programs and developing and delivering future education programs ranging from certificates and diplomas to undergraduate and graduate degrees in wildfire and emergency management disciplines.

The new degrees are still to be developed, following TRU’s and B.C.’s usual processes.

TRU will also collaborate with BCWS on research initiatives and innovation to ensure B.C. is well-equipped to address the ever-changing landscape of wildfire.

The key to all of this is the concept of research-informed training. Research and innovation will continuously inform the learning curriculum, keeping it up to date and ensuring B.C. remains a world leader in managing emergencies and fighting fires.

We are calling this comprehensive approach, which integrates research, education, training and innovation, “TRU Wildfire.”

This initiative builds on TRU’s strengths, including the fact we are a globally linked research university that also offers non-degree-credit training. We have special expertise in flexible curriculum delivery, and we are closely engaged with Interior communities, including the Secwépemc and other First Nations.

Last year, TRU established the Institute for Wildfire Science, Adaptation and Resiliency, with world-renowned wildfire expert Mike Flannigan as its scientific director.

Flannigan is also the B.C. Innovation research chair in Predictive Services, Emergency Management and Fire Science at TRU and the science director of Canada Wildfire. He is joined at the institute by other leading researchers, undergraduate and graduate students and faculty committed to finding solutions and creating safer, more resilient communities.

TRU Wildfire will focus on more than wildfire science. It will also encompass the social, health, and community impacts of wildfire, as well as Indigenous cultural fire. Combined with our research expertise, our new research institute and opportunities presented by the partnership with BCWS, we are well on our way to forming a world-class wildfire learning, research, and innovation ecosystem that will bridge leading-edge wildfire research into frontline learning for those who manage wildfires and landscapes.

TRU also has a history of developing strong partnerships, including the Interior Universities Research Consortium (IURC) with the University of Northern B.C. and UBC Okanagan. While the IURC is our foundational interuniversity partnership, there will be many more collaborations to come as TRU connects wildfire science and other wildfire research areas and training to the best researchers wherever they may be located.

TRU Wildfire signals an expression of our commitment to the land and our location in the Interior and in Secwepemcúl'ecw. Everyone who lives in B.C.’s interior understands the perils caused by wildfires. In recent years, residents across the interior have suffered the loss of homes or displacement from communities for weeks at a time and with alarming frequency. All of us have had to endure choking veils of smoke. The increasing frequency and intensity of summer wildfires have ensured that this is a real-world problem requiring action.

TRU Wildfire reflects our collective recognition of the urgent need to adapt to and mitigate the effects of wildfires. The partnership between TRU and the B.C. Wildfire Service, symbolized by the TRU Wildfire initiative, represents a significant step forward. It embodies a commitment to leveraging local expertise and resources to develop innovative solutions that protect and enhance the resilience of our communities.

By focusing on a comprehensive approach that encompasses research, education, training, and innovation, we are setting a new standard in wildfire management and community protection. This initiative positions British Columbia as a leader in addressing the challenges posed by wildfires and as a model for others to follow.

TRU Wildfire is not just about responding to wildfires, it is about anticipating and preparing for them, ensuring a safer and more resilient future for everyone. It illustrates what a university like TRU can do, and why it is important to have a world-class university located in a region like ours.

Brett Fairbairn is the president and vice-chancellor of Thompson Rivers University. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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