Firefighters aim for national certification

A 15-minute fitness test in the Takhini Arena on Wednesday was the hardest Tim MacIntosh has worked all year. "It was a struggle," said the firefighter as sweat slowly dripped down his forehead.

A 15-minute fitness test in the Takhini Arena on Wednesday was the hardest Tim MacIntosh has worked all year.

“It was a struggle,” said the firefighter as sweat slowly dripped down his forehead. “It tired me out, that’s for sure.”

It’s his first year working with Yukon wildland fire management. And it’s been a slow one.

“I’m not used to sitting around waiting for fires. Normally I like to go, go, go.”

If he gets national certification, he will have more opportunities to fight fires because he’ll be able to do it in other provinces.

The fitness test is part of a Canada-wide project to measure the physical demands of firefighters in each province. In the fall, the group, contracted by the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, will explore the findings to set up a national certified standard for firefighting.

Firefighters are completing the same obstacle course across the country. It’s meant to replicate their real work, even if it takes place in an indoor arena.

The four-kilogram weight around MacIntosh’s waist makes up for the frontline attire he would normally wear: a helmet, steel-toe boots, protective clothing.

With the blunt side of an axe, he hit a tire across six metres to replicate digging a trench. It’s called the Pulaski test. This part isn’t timed – it’s pass or fail.

He put a 28.5-kilogram pack on his back. It’s a wooden contraption with bolted-on heavy metal plates to distribute weight like a high-pressure pump. MacIntosh, with the imitation pump on his back, made his way over the 1.2-metre, 30-degree ramp four times.

Next, firefighters carried the pump in their hands around the ramp twice, a distance of 80 metres.

MacKinnon, relieved, dropped the wooden board and strapped on the 24.5-kilogram neon orange hose pack. He took it over the ramp 50 times, each climb becoming tougher.

His last task was to pull an 18.5-kilogram sled 80 metres. The wooden sled with metal weights represented dragging a 30-metre charged hose.

This was the toughest part, MacIntosh said. It’s the same work they do every day, but “the difference is that when we’re doing this sort of thing, we’ve got time to rest in between work.”

Depending on test results, firefighters can get provincial standards to travel to specific provinces, or exchange performance standards to be qualified for all provinces, said project leader Norman Gledhill.

The job is more difficult the farther west you go, said Robbie Gumieniak, the lead tester and a master’s student in the health exercise program at York University. In British Columbia and the Yukon, firefighters are working with less availability of fresh water, in higher elevations and, consequently, in lighter air.

Crewmembers can already travel from province to province to fight wildland fires but the certification will ensure individual firefighters are qualified.

“It establishes that out-of-province firefighters are able to safely and efficiently do the job,” said Gumieniak.

It also measures the fitness level of the crews, said Mike Sparks, Yukon wildland fire management supervisor. “We already have an established standard that the guys get tested for every spring. This will only add to their fitness level.”

And the perk for firefighters: “It’s a different experience to get out of the Yukon,” said firefighter Owen MacKinnon.

Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at larissaj@yukon-news.com

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