Folks, let’s be honest—when you think of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer, what image pops into your head? A tall figure in a Stetson, the Red Serge, horse-riding boots, and the whole nine yards, right? Now, picture that same officer, but this time they’re racing against time in a wildfire scenario. Faced with challenges ranging from evacuation management to communications with at-risk homeowners, RCMP Members often literally put themselves in the line of fire.
We connected with Staff Sergeant (S/Sgt.) Scott Fuller who provided his first-hand insights into the multifaceted roles that RCMP members play in wildfire responses and the challenges they face in ensuring public safety.
What’s in a day’s work?
“We consult with local crisis management regarding evacuations, staff checkpoints, patrol evacuation zones to support evacuation orders, prevent looting, and facilitate re-entry to evacuated zones,” says S/Sgt. Fuller. That’s right: they’re not just there for photo ops. They serve as your one-stop shop for wildfire emergency responses. From advising you to kindly evacuate your home to assisting in its protection for your return. And yes, if you left your cat Fluffy behind, they’ve usually got that covered too purely out of the goodness of their hearts.
Public behaviour during wildfires: the surprising truth
Here’s the kicker—people refuse to evacuate. If you thought an approaching wildfire would be reason enough for residents to prioritize their safety, think again. Often, people inadvertently prioritize their material belongings over their own lives. S/Sgt. Fuller was surprised and concerned. “I never knew that members of the public would place their property of higher importance than their own safety.”
The RCMP also have their list of often surprising challenges. This includes the refusal to evacuate and people leaving their pets behind. Oh, and looting. While most people are showing community spirit by providing food and shelter for neighbours, there are always some with the intent to make off with an evacuated family’s flat-screen TV while their house is in jeopardy.
And let’s not forget the challenges with getting information out to sometimes hundreds of people who are displaced from their Wi-Fi and chargers, not to mention the Facebook Canadian news ban. S/Sgt. Fuller notes, “A lack of hourly updates as fires progress is problematic. People need to be aware of shifting weather conditions.”
The unsung heroes
If there’s one thing you should know about our RCMP Members during wildfire responses, it’s this: “We work around the clock in multiple roles to ensure your safety,” says S/Sgt. Fuller. They patrol empty streets and communities, conduct rescues, feed your remaining pets, and are often the last ones to leave and the first to return – often as their own families have long since been evacuated, and, in some cases, their own houses and properties destroyed.
So next time you see an RCMP officer, maybe offer them a Timbit, or at least a smile, a wave, or a kind word of thanks. They’ve earned it.
In the end, policing is more than just a job; it’s a calling. And while their Stetsons might not be fireproof, their commitment to public safety surely is.