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This is how Alberta's new firefighting recruits are preparing for wildfire season

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With wildfire season already underway in Alberta, hundreds of new recruits are preparing for their new jobs at Alberta's wildfire training centre.

Recruits spend six days in the classroom, before putting their skills to the test in the field at the end of the week.

"They'll be coming down to this site in a helicopter grabbing their gear and moving on to staged wildfires," said Josee St-Onge of Wildfire Alberta.

"They'll practice setting up pumps, setting up hose, extinguishing the perimeter of a fire and then checking it for hotspots in a way that mimics what a real wildfire looks like."

While their time in the classroom is wrapping up, their training isn't over.

"There's also many hours that they do learning on the job with a mentor."

"There's still a lot of learning that happens out in the field before they're certified as firefighters."

The new recruits say they're ready to get down to work.

"It's exciting. It feels like it's gone really fast, but also really slow at the same time. So I'm excited to finish and put all of my knowledge and skills to actually firefighting," said Deedee Schultz.

"I was watching the news last year, and I saw how the wildfires were actually impacting communities in Alberta," Aaron Kurd said.

"After doing a little bit of research, I noticed that this job would be really in line with what I'm interested in doing, and it would be a meaningful job that has a big impact on Canada itself. So that really motivated me to join."

St-Onge says Alberta is planning for 800 wildfire fighters this year, including 100 new positions approved in the recent provincial budget.

While some firefighters will be returning from previous seasons, she says recruitment is an issue every year.

"Seasonal staff is always a challenge. You naturally get a turnover as people either move on to full time positions, or we do have a lot of post secondary students that once they're done their schooling are looking for different types of employment."

Staff who do sign up for the 2024 season could be looking at a hard summer ahead.

"We are gearing up for what could be a challenging season," St-Onge commented.

"Right now the conditions are dry and warm. There's not much snow. There's been below average snow levels throughout the winter. And that impacts how we're going into the season.

"But we're also dealing with drought conditions from several years that have accumulated."

New recruits participate in wildfire firefighter training in Alberta on April 8, 2024. (Marek Tkach/CTV News Edmonton)

Last year, a record amount of ground was burned in Alberta.

As of Monday, 51 wildfires are burning in Alberta, 42 of those fires started in 2023.

Burnout and mental health is a top priority for those training Alberta's future firefighters.

"The new recruits that we've trained today, we have been talking to them all week about their physical safety and psychological safety, and that mental health and mental wellness are really important that we are at risk for that in our line of work," said Nicole Galambos, manager of wildfire training.

"We do have the Critical Incident Stress Management program (CISM), the same program that the structural firefighters and other first responders use, and our employee assistance program so folks have opportunities to call to reach out."

Alberta Wildfire will continue to train new recruits until mid-May.

After that, they'll be assigned to a forest area for the rest of the summer.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Miriam Valdes-Carletti 

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