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Garrett Ugray

Initial Attack Incident Commander
Aviation Forest Fire and Emergency Services, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
Garrett Ugray | Commandant de première intervention sur les lieux de l'incident
Garrett Ugray | Commandant de première intervention sur les lieux de l'incident
Location Born
Location Now
Education Pathway
School Subject

Garrett Ugray is an initial attack incident commander for the Aviation Forest Fire and Emergency Services branch of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

About me

I was born/grew up in: Sioux Lookout, Ontario. I moved to Thunder Bay when I was 6 years old and have lived there ever since.

I now live in: Thunder Bay, ON, Canada

I completed my training/education at: I completed my university education at Lakehead University and am still attending Lakehead University for a second degree in business.

What I do at work

As a crew leader in the fire program, I am responsible for the safety of my crew as we respond to incidents and wildfires. There are various tactics used in fire suppression efforts depending on the situation: sprinkler setup for protection of buildings, powerpumps and hose for direct attack on a fire, handtools, bucket support and air attack with waterbombers.

Garrett Ugray

Typical day at work begins with a morning briefing: current fire situation, weather forecast, anticipated fire starts, upcoming training plans, and any other issues that need to be brought up. After the briefing, we get one hour for fitness because being in physical conditioning is important and helps prevent injuries on the fireline. There will be some crews who are on alert, and have to remain on base in case they get dispatched to a fire, and the other crews do jobs on base or go training. As the crew leader I have ensure my crew completes all of our proficiency training (basically practicing pump setups, hose lays, chainsaw training, learning about fire behaviour and suppression tactics) throughout the summer. As well, if we respond to a fire, I’m in charge of everything- suppression of the fire, job assignments, where we lay hose, all the while keeping my crew’s safety as my number one priority.

On the job both my crew and I have to be able to think critically and solve problems as they arise. Having a STEM background helps me to think critically, objectively, and to find creative solutions to unique problems.

Having a background in science and math helps me to understand the weather that affects fire behaviour. In addition, being able to understand the science behind forest fire growth and rates of spread help me make better-informed decisions.

My career path is

I thought fighting forest fires would be a lot fun and be a good summer job while I was in school. To apply, I had to take the SP-100 fire fighting course, pass a fitness test, and take a standard first aid course.

My first degree is in the Health Sciences. I applied to med school and got wait-listed a few times and decided that I wanted to do more firefighting. I decided to get a second degree in business that I could use after graduation and I am working on that during the school year now. I feel I am really accumulating skills and experience along the way and getting skills and technical knowledge that will help me move forward academically or professionally. I am building towards combining diverse interests together.

I am not sure where my path will take me next but I may end up starting my own business or going to medical school and opening my own practice.

I am motivated by

I’m most motivated by being responsible for the safety of myself and my crew- making sure everyone gets home safe at the end of the summer. This means training my crew, teaching them how to identify dangerous situations, and how to deal with the stress of the job. I get most excited when the weather is hot and dry, fresh lightning has just come through the night before, and we’re expecting new fires to pop up that day. The most enjoyable part of my job is being out in the bush with my crew on a fire. This is a great summer job for me right now because it provides new challenges every year, allows me to develop and grow, and I get to jump out of helicopters and play with some pretty cool toys. What is really rewarding is watching my crew develop and improve as the summer goes on (chainsaw training, working on the pump, being more confident on the nozzle).

How I affect people’s lives

Without forest firefighters to control wildfires, there could be huge impacts on communities and people threatened by wildfires. As firefighters, our top priority is preservation of human life, followed by the protection and preservation of values (communities, infrastructure like highways and power lines, and any structure of value to someone which could even be a trapper’s cabin in the middle of nowhere).

Outside of work I

During the summer and when I’m working, I like to go to the gym after work is done. If the weather is nice and I have days off, we’ll go to the beach, go golfing, and go fishing. A good day off during the summer is one where I can do all three in one day!

My advice to others

If you’re looking for a summer job (which you can turn into a year-round career) and you want to test your limits both physically and mentally, forest firefighting could be for you. During a busy fire season, you will work harder than you’ve ever worked before, but you will also get to see and do things that most people don’t ever get the chance to do. You will meet a lot of interesting people from all walks of life.

Information on becoming a fireranger can be found at the MNR website: http://www.ontario.ca/jobs-and-employment/become-fireranger

As well, the second season of a documentary series that I participated in, called “Playing With Fire” premiered June 4th, 2015 on the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network. It shows pretty accurately what it’s like to be an initial attack firefighter. The camera crew followed my fire crew in the summers of 2013 (season 1) and 2014 (season 2).“Playing With Fire” can be found on Facebook too.

I am indigenous

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Art
  • Business & Economics
  • Foreign Languages
  • Math
  • Science
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Enjoyed doing things on my own
  • Always wanted to be outside
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Learned best "by doing"

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