Last week, 75 recruits gathered in Merritt to see if they had what it takes to be a B.C. wildfire firefighter.

Pushing their mental and physical limits to the test, these men and women participated in the second of three boot camps the B.C. Forest Service held in Merritt this year to select crew members for the wildfire season.

Those participating in the boot camps (about 220 in total) had already been selected from about 1,600 other applicants through a process that began in January with an interview and preliminary fitness assessment. However, Day One of boot camp had the recruits participating in another fitness test that made them sweat.

Divided into two groups they were first required to march 4.83 kilometres around the Voght Park track carrying a 45 pound backpack, a task they had to complete in under 45 minutes. Following the walk, they participated in a pump hose carrying relay and other drills.

Passing the tests meant an invitation to participate in the week-long camp which included orientation and training both in the classroom and in the field.

“This is basically a week-long live interview,” said Chad Smith, new recruit boot camp course chair. “We’re looking at work ethic, attitude and the ability to work on a team.”

“The camp will show whether or not they can do a mentally and physically demanding job for days on end.”

Training during boot camp involved simulated situations for all aspects of the job including a prescribed burn at the end of the camp, Smith said.

Recruits who make it through the camp will be assigned to one of the various B.C. wildfire crews throughout the province and assist with containing the many wildfires B.C. crews face each year.

Recruits themselves come from all over the province and elsewhere.

“Primarily, they’re all green recruits though some may have served on non-government crews or in other provinces, but most have never done it before,” said Smith.

One of the 75 at fitness testing last Wednesday was Christopher Yearwood, a UBC student studying pharmacy who decided to try firefighting after four summer seasons of tree planting.

“Firefighting is basically the promised land for the tree planters,” he joked. “Tree planting is piece work, but firefighting has a little more prestige; the work is better and the money is better.”

“I don’t know if I’ll like it because I’ve never done it before, but I’m looking for a change.”

Waiting for his turn to begin the 45-minute fast walk, Yearwood said that the recruitment process is definitely intense. However, he said that he was fairly confident he could handle it because of his generally active lifestyle – skiing in the winter, backpacking, climbing and commuting about 20 kilometres on his bike every day.

I’m excited to get over the fitness test and get into training,” said Yearwood, looking forward to possible placement on a crew.

“You could end up going anywhere,” he said. “It’s interesting not knowing where I’m going to be, but I’ll be happy to get rid of the unknown.”