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Chu Chua deputy fire chief honoured for wildfire resiliency

Melanie Stutt one of five women in B.C. and Alberta to receive prestigious Lynn Orstad Award
On April 22, Chu Chua Volunteer Fire Department deputy fire chief and Simpcw First Nation Emergency Coordinator Melanie Stutt (second from l) received the Lynn Orstad Award, which honours women who have contributed to furthering wildfire resistance in their community, agency, or province. Five awards were presented to outstanding female wildfire professionals from B.C. and Alberta. (Photo by: FireSmart BC)

A deputy fire chief with the Chu Chua Volunteer Fire Department (CCVFD) has been awarded the prestigious Lynn Orstad Award for 2024, which recognizes women in wildfire resiliency.

Melanie Stutt was raised on a ranch in the North Thompson near Chu Chua, and came into volunteer firefighting in a unique way. During a recruitment initiative the CCVFD approached ranching families in the area and asked for a member of each homestead to join the fire department, in exchange for additional fire protection for the ranchers. Stutt was chosen from her family to go to fire practice once a month starting in 2016, and has been an active member of the CCVFD since then, now serving as the deputy chief and Simpcw Emergency Coordinator.

The Lynn Orstad Award is sponsored by FireSmart BC, Co-operators Insurance and FireSmart Alberta, to recognize women who have contributed to furthering wildfire resiliency in their community, agency, or province. The award was presented on April 22 at the Wildfire Resiliency and Training Summit hosted in Prince George.

“I didn’t know I had been nominated for this award and when I got an email saying I had been selected as one of the five recipients for 2024 I was so surprised,” says Stutt. “I said there are so many more people out there doing better things than me, especially since it’s involving women from across B.C. and Alberta. I’m very humbled by the thought that what we are doing is making a difference.”

A female colleague from Kamloops who works in emergency management recently praised the team at Chu Chua to Stutt during an event, saying “What you are doing is literally paving the way for the Central Interior.” The comment got the Simpcw Emergency Coordinator thinking about the unique programs and projects they have been focused on in the North Thompson as a team.

“I’m not what I feel is an emergency management professional,” says Stutt. “I’m just doing what needs to be done in our community.”

Ron Lampreau, fire chief for CCVFD and a Simpcw First Nation councillor, submitted the nomination and expressed his high regard for Stutt.

“Melanie stands out as a formidable advocate for wildfire resiliency. Her proactive stance towards wildfire suppression and response in Simpcw is unmistakable, highlighted by her pivotal role in establishing the Indigenous Initial Attack Wildfire Crew.

“Melanie’s unwavering commitment to community safety is evident, coupled with a dedication to implementing innovative strategies in the relentless pursuit of addressing wildfire challenges. Her advocacy efforts truly embody a proactive and forward-thinking approach to community resilience.”

Lampreau’s nomination was accompanied by two community letters of support, from Lower North Thompson Community Forest general manager Mike Francis and Jim Magowan of Interfor, who also praised her dedication and contributions within the valley.

Stutt, 41, lives with her 10-year-old son Harvest and husband Justin on a multi-generational family ranch just north of Chu Chua in the North Thompson. The family-run spread also includes a butcher shop, and the family has a wide variety of farm animals and related products they sell.

Stutt credits the support of her family, and especially her partner Justin, with helping her accomplish her commitments to the emergency coordinator’s position. “It’s so important to have that support at home when doing a job like this,” she says.

Following the fires in the Dunn Lake area in 2017, Simpcw First Nation quickly realized the need to create the emergency coordinator position. With the administrative experience Stutt had already gained, she was chosen to lead the team.

“I told them I’m available anytime, but I’m not available all the time. They replied with ‘You’re hired!’ At that point the job involved filling out grant applications and keeping the emergency plan updated.”

Things have evolved since then, and Stutt now has five people working under her direction in the emergency management department, with four more to be hired this summer.

Stutt has recently published a children- and family-oriented book about coping with wildfires each year called Shawn and Flash, about being prepared for fire season. Shawn is a young boy who has a friend, Flash the weasel. Flash and the rest of the weasels show Shawn how they work together to prepare their community and keep it resilient through wildfire season. Shawn is inspired by what he learns and wants to take that back to his own community to help reduce the impacts of fire.

“Shawn and Flash takes a lighthearted approach to a big problem,” says Stutt. “Youth have the power to make change; they need to know just how much impact one individual can have. This book shows them how to take action and reminds them that they hold the power of change within them. We are in this together, and together we are stronger.”

The book was illustrated by local artist Kay Pilatzke and is the first in a series of three that Stutt will publish in the near future. The book is available online through FriesenPress at

As for Stutt, her life is always busy as mother, author, firefighter, rancher, and now award-winning emergency operations coordinator in the North Thompson.

”We need to ask ourselves how can we do our part to keep our communities safe. If we work together we can all make a difference.

“We now have a collaboration of BC Wildfire, local industry, farmers, local First Nations and local fire departments working together. All of us together is what will work to keep our communities safe during future wildfire seasons.”

About the Author: Hettie Buck

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