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This article was published 11/8/2015 (712 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When she first signed up for the military, Lt. Megan Cuoto didn’t imagine that fighting a forest fire would be included in her job description.
"This was not something I had envisioned doing for my first operation," she said in a recent interview with the Sun.
After being deployed with 850 of her counterparts to battle forest fires in northern Saskatchewan in July, Cuoto was on leave when reached by the Sun, following the end of her assignment.
Now under control, wildfires ravaged northern Saskatchewan last month, with more than 120 active fires spanning over 475,000 hectares.
At one point, 10,000 people were evacuated from their homes as 1,700 firefighters worked to contain the blaze, which came within 1.5 kilometres of LaRonge, northern Saskatchewan’s most heavily populated area.
Cuoto, a 22-year-old recent graduate of the Royal Canadian Military College of Canada, said the call to aid Saskatchewan firefighters didn’t come as a surprise — 2PPCLI had been preparing vehicles and soldier kits for a week in advance in the event that the call for deployment came.
Training, however, was limited due to the time constraints of the mission, named Op LENTUS 15-02 by Canadian Forces.
"Training consisted of a condensed eight-hour training session," Cuoto said, adding that the training was all theory-based, as there was no time for any practice fighting an actual fire. "It certified all participants to Level 3 in forest fire fighting."
As soon as training was completed, soldiers were deployed to Prince Albert, Sask., before being given their assignments.
Feelings on base before deployment were mixed, according to Cuoto.
"The general feeling of many of the soldiers was excitement, and some apprehensiveness for some of the more senior members who had deployed on domestic operations in the past such as … the response to Manitoba floods in the vicinity of Portage la Prairie last year. For many of the new troops, and myself being a new junior officer, I was excited to get out of the door and to deploy on my first domestic operation with my platoon."
Cuoto’s assignment upon arrival in Prince Albert didn’t end up being the most dramatic or dangerous, but still provided a key function in protecting vital infrastructure from being destroyed.
"My platoon and 2 Platoon were given the task of clearing brush from around telephone poles along the highway, which headed west towards Beauval (Sask.). This task ensured that if the closest fire spread towards the highway, the poles would not burn from the inside out and topple over, which would cut off power to Beauval. While we worked, we saw the devastating effect the fires had in the past."
Though it was not the work she imagined she would be doing, Cuoto said she was reminded of a key lesson she was taught when she first joined the military in 2010.
"My primary task as Canadian Forces member is to defend Canada, which includes protecting Canadians from a wide variety of threats, and I was happy to help my fellow Canadians," she said. "I was lucky to have been able to deploy on a domestic operation with my soldiers and work alongside them."
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