Haze, blaze and workdays: We're launching a two-week series on the Kamloops Fire Centre

For the next two weeks, KamloopsMatters will be profiling a BC Wildfire Service employee at the Kamloops Fire Centre. KFC coordinates the wildfire response across south-central B.C., from Blue River in the north to the U.S. border in the south, and from Bridge River in the west to Monashee Mountains in the east. The fire centre employs around 50 permanent staff and a large number of seasonal support staff. 

The goal of this 10-part feature is to give our readers a better understanding and a bird's-eye view of what happens at the centre, and to put a face to the people who are behind the scenes and on the frontlines.

When contractors and equipment get deployed to a fire, it's Vanessa Campagnolo's job to ensure everyone gets paid. 

The 23-year-old is one of eight wildfire services clerks at the Kamloops Fire Centre who are responsible for processing invoices in an accurate and timely manner. The finance team is also tasked with HR and payroll services.

"When fire season is in full swing, it's all hands on deck," Campagnolo tells KamloopsMatters. 

Vanessa CampagnoloVanessa Campagnolo. (via B.C. Wildfire Service)

More than 150 invoices could hit her department's desk in one week, she says. From danger tree assessors and fallers to first-aid contractors. 

"One invoice could take anywhere from 10 minutes to a whole day, depending on where the invoice comes from. If it comes from a company that has contract fire crews, and they’re invoicing for two weeks worth of work, and they had hotels that they need to be reimbursed for, meals, if they’re standby … These invoices can get super complicated and sometimes they just take time. ... And that's if the invoice comes in complete," Campagnolo laughs.

There are five fire zones with the Kamloops Fire Centre: Kamloops, Lillooet, Merritt, Penticton and Vernon. Campagnolo says each zone plays a big role in keeping track of the paperwork. 

It's not unusual for wildfire service clerks to be deployed to a blaze, she adds. Part of the gig can include 14-day stints in a fire camp, recording the exact time that a fire crew or a piece of equipment was on a fire. They could also be at the scene to collect documents for an injury or safety issue, or to estimate the cost of a fire.

"We’re accountable to the taxpayers so we need to make sure what we’re paying is no more and no less than the work that was actually done," says Campagnolo, noting she was deployed twice in 2018. "We’re not just a desk job. We don’t just work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. We go on deployments and we work 12-hour days during the height of the fire season."

Campagnolo admits being on standby can be a challenge.

Richter Creek WildfireThe Richter Creek wildfire. (via BC Wildfire Service)

"We can be deployed in a moment's notice and it can be anywhere in the province," she says. "It's hard to be ready every day, to pack up and leave for 14 days. You don't know where you might go."

Despite the uncertainty of the position, Campagnolo says being at a fire is "addicting."

"It’s an adrenaline rush and you’re surrounded by so many people who are passionate about what they do. Even if it’s just seasonal for them, or temporary, that’s why they’re there. It’s just kind of amazing to see the passion and how that all comes together in the whole incident command system."

The Kamloops resident, who's been with BC Wildfire Service for about a year, has no plans to leave the organization. 

"I just have so much pride in working for BC Wildfire," she says. "Although we’re not out there on the fires all the time, I like to think that we still fight the fires in our own way."

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