Canadian Wildfire Conference brings together ground and air leaders in Kelowna
October 31, 2023 By Helicopters Staff
The Canadian Wildfire Conference took place in Kelowna, BC, on October 26 at the KF Aerospace Centre for Excellence. This year’s edition presented an expanded program of the Aerial Firefighting Conference, hosted by Wings and Helicopters for the past three years. The newly named, re-envisioned conference highlights a partnership between these aviation media brands and Firefighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter, which are also brands controlled by parent company, Annex Business Media. The goal of this expanded partnership is to provide a unique national platform to unite leaders in ground and air wildfire suppression.
What started out as an aerial firefighting virtual event in 2020, dampened down because of COVID, was followed by a 10-booth show in Abbotsford, BC, in 2021, just as the world was coming out of pandemic restrictions. There were then 25 booths at last year’s conference in Kelowna, held as one of the first events at the then brand new KF Aerospace Centre. While the conference will no doubt move to other locations in the future as a national platform, the location of Kelowna is well suited because approximately 60 per cent of all Canadian helicopter operators are within a few hundred miles of the city, situated in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, which also holds some of the world’s leading ground and air crews involved in wildfire suppression.
The expanded 2023 Canadian Wildfire Conference featured 50 booths and multiple air and ground vehicles for wildfire suppression positioned on the KF Centre ramp. (See a photo gallery from the event below.) The static display included a Super Puma AS332 Firecat from Coldstream Helicopters, Kodiak 900 from Daher Aerospace, and a Coulson Aviation modified Boeing 737-300 owned by the Argentine Government of Santiego Del Estero. Just weeks away from certification and delivery, the 737-300 is currently the largest airtanker in Canada with a payload of 15,141 litres. There were also six ground vehicles on display, including modified wildfire trucks from Perimeter Solutions, Safetek Profire and Commercial Emergency Equipment, as well as a heliskid and two wildfire protection trailers.
A day before the conference at KF Centre, on October 25, organizers of the conference welcomed 150 leaders from ground and air services who have been on the frontlines or working tirelessly throughout a record-breaking wildfire session in Canada for an inaugural Appreciation Dinner. Sponsored in part by Waterax, the dinner at the Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna also served as a fundraiser for SickNotWeak, an organization dedicated to providing mental health awareness. The evening included a keynote presentation by broadcasting personality Michael Landsberg, who is the founder of SickNotWeak.
The expanded 2023 wildfire conference program on October 26, running under the moniker of Uniting Ground and Air, proved to be a success with more than 250 attendees and, more importantly, a noticeable day of discussions between air, ground and government agencies. The day began with an air and ground interoperability panel featuring Michael Benson, Director of Business Development, Conair Group; Sean Rickards, Director of Operations, Yellowhead Helicopters; Greg Adams, Air Attack Officer, BC Wildfire Service; and retired Hope Fire Chief Tom DeSorcy.
Topics of the interoperability panel ranged from labour issues and cross training to creating clearer communications and the prospect of developing a national wildfire force. The latter issue did not hold much weight with the panelists, who cited a range of logistical issues, but all agreed Federal support for additional capacity and resources is key. Indeed, the 2023 wildfire season, noted as the worst in Canada’s history, could have been even more devastating if it was not for a lack of wildfires in the U.S. over 2023.
The interop panel was followed by a session called Deploying Resources for Structure Protection with speakers Scott Cronquist, Structure Protection Specialist, SPS-138 Wildfire Service, Ministry of Forests, and Brittany Seibert, Emergency Program Coordinator, City of Penticton. They went through a range of advances and strategies being deployed, including a look a massive water systems and tactics to deal with ever more aggressive wildfires.
The afternoon began with a second panel discussion on innovation and advanced tactics for wildfire suppression, featuring Wayne Coulson, CEO of Coulson Group; Thomas Hoppe, owner of drone operation 43 Degrees North; and Mike King, Chief Pilot of White Saddle Air. It is clear to see why Canada holds one of the world’s elite wildfire fighting forces, as the discussion ranged from fighting fires
from the air at night – a unique capability in the world led by Coulson in the U.S. – and pinpoint drops via GPS positioning to early warning systems and advances in Helco training operations.
Paul Fletcher and Hope Nelson of Drone Amplified finished up the day with a technical session on using IGNIS for aerial ignition. The integration of drones into wildfire suppression activities was a common theme throughout the day, although it is primarily saved for imaging and mapping in the current theatre.
The success of the new Canadian Wildfire Conference platform was in large part led by its committed sponsors, including: Venue Sponsor KF Aerospace Centre for Excellence; Platinum Sponsors Perimeter Solutions and Safetek Profire; Gold Sponsor Airbus; Silver Sponsors Bell Textron Canada, Canadian Propeller, Conair Group, Consolidated Turbine Specialists De Havilland Aircraft of Canada, Motion and Vallfirest; and event specialty sponsors Commercial Emergency Equipment and Portage Aircraft.