By the end of the week, there could be 90 freshly trained wildland firefighters in the province ready to hit the fire front lines.
Early on Thursday, dozens of men – and several women – from all walks of life stepped up in Prince Albert to receive Type III Wildland Fire training and offer their services. Overall, 60 people were set to receive training in the city.
Meanwhile in Stanley Mission, 30 people were taking the courses.
Extended hours for training will cram all the information, which is typically spread out in a five-day course, into four days. That means the course will wrap up by Saturday night. Following that, the certified firefighters can be hired by the province.
The first-come, first-serve call for volunteers led to a full room in Prince Albert Grand Council’s (PAGC) urban services office before the training started on Thursday morning. With an abundance of people present, many had to wait until the second round of training began.
A long list of people had called in the days leading up to the training, but as names were read out, it became clear most of them hadn’t shown up.
There was a lot of motivation for those who showed up, many of them wanting to return to their home reserves like Montreal Lake and Lac La Ronge to tackle the flames that threaten their communities.
Jayson Tremblay, a young man who lives in Saskatoon now, only recently moved from his home in La Ronge. His family is involved in mandatory evacuations.
He headed out for the training on the heels of quitting a job in the city.
“I kind of wanted to do something about it when it started,” Tremblay said.
He saw the post on Facebook calling for people to take the wildland course and was “interested in experiencing it.”
Three ex-convicts who have been receiving help transitioning back into the workforce heeded the call for volunteers as well.
Lowell Naytowhow is one of them. After spending a year in prison for a drunk driving offence, he’s ready to serve his home community of Montreal Lake. He called his conviction a wake-up call that changed his life.
Naytowhow’s wife, children, and grandchildren are among those who have been evacuated.
Now, he wants to return home to help in whatever way he can.
“To see the community, my community, burning, I’ve seen pictures … and it’s just so devastating,” he said. “I don’t know, it’s kind of sad.”
Lowell Naytowhow waits to see if his name is read off the list of volunteers. Chelsea Laskowski/paNOW.
His goal is “just to help out the firefighters. I know they’ve gone long hours and maybe we’ll give them a break,” Naytowhow said.
He was on the line for wildfires around La Ronge nearly a decade ago when more than 1,000 firefighters were present. Naytowhow now needs to be recertified.
“I’ve been in a fire before, but I’ve seen the smoke flares come up and stuff like that. The fire’s very unpredictable so I have to be extra safe and training is here,” he said.
He volunteered at the Senator Allen Bird Memorial Centre the day before, and said frustration is the main emotion people were feeling. Within Naytowhow’s family, which is spread out in different communities, having no stability and having daily routines flipped upside down “may sound easy, but it’s not easy.”
Only a day before the wildland training began, Lac La Ronge Chief Tammy Cook-Searson received support from the provincial government to train and hire 250 firefighters from the northern areas affected by fires.
“I’m glad that they lifted it up. It was kind of slow for the politicians but we need them to think, and be in our shoes,” Naytowhow said.
“I don’t know if they’re trying, maybe they should put in a little effort.”
On Twitter: @chelsealaskowsk