Inside the smoke: Local knowledge from BC’s Conservation Officers a valuable asset for the RCMP

BC – As wildfires continue to burn across British Columbia the importance of partner agencies working with the RCMP continues to be evident.

One agency, the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service, has brought a combination of knowledge, equipment and understanding of local environments that has proven invaluable to police working in fire zones. While the RCMP and BC Conservation Service work together routinely in British Columbia, this wildfire season has resulted in the longest sustained co-deployment for the agencies.

“As the RCMP we are able to draw upon police officers from across the province and country to help in areas that affected by the fires,” explains Inspector John Ibbotson, Silver Commander for the BC RCMP Wildfire operation. “This can mean that officers from outside of the area, with limited local knowledge, are tasked with enacting Evacuation Orders. By working closely with BC Conservation Officers we have been able to save significant time and effort which directly contributed to increased public safety.”

For BC Conservation Officers working the wildfire season has been a significant experience.

“I’ve worked for 25 years as a Conservation Officer and this is the single biggest engagement that I’ve experienced,” says Sergeant Kevin Van Damme, with the BC Conservation. “We have approximately 50 Conservation Officers working along the RCMP in the southeast and north around Williams Lake. This is a fairly strong contingent from a 140 person provincial agency.”

While there have been numerous instances from across the province, Sergeant Kevin Van Damme cites the Elephant Hill fire and the evacuation of Clinton and the surrounding area as a prime example.

“Some of the area that we were required to help evacuate was quite rural. The Conservation Officers working with RCMP members were able to help guide us to residences to ensure that everyone knew of the evacuation order,” explains Inspector Ibbotson.

Photo by RCMP
Photo by RCMP

Sgt Van Damme, who is primarily working at the Elephant Hill fire, agrees that the local knowledge Conservation Officers have can help during a crisis situation.

“By working with the RCMP we were also able to support and assist the people we work around in our regular duties,” he explains. “We had daily contact with people in the evacuation order area who chose to stay because they may have cattle or ranches. We would update them on fires, and help them bring items in. I think it helped RCMP members from cities get an appreciation for the rural lifestyle.”

Photo by RCMP
Photo by RCMP

Both Inspector Ibbotson and Sgt Van Damme agree that the experience working together will continue to be beneficial in the future.

“Any time we have a chance to work with a partner agency for an extended period it provides our officers a better understanding of the skills and knowledge that they bring to a situation. This understanding, and the contacts we make, help all agencies provide a better service to the British Columbians we serve,” says Inspector Ibbotson.

“It’s been a tremendous experience for our members. By developing friendships and sharing stories we both have a better understanding of what each other does,” says Sgt. Van Damme. “After working side-by-side it’s easier to make a phone call and develop a mutual response to a situation.”


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