Fire Fighting in Canada

Q and A with author Dave Hugelschaffer

carelessbook-correctWEB EXCLUSIVE

Q and A with author
Dave Hugelschaffer

Dave Hugelschaffer’s novel One Careless Moment combines mystery and suspense with scientific details of forest-fire investigation.

April 29, 2009 
By Carey Fredericks

April 29, 2009 – Dave Hugelschaffer has spent a lot of time in Alberta’s forests. As a member of the Alberta Forest Services he’s been involved in everything from land use and timber management to firefighting. So when the Edmonton-born author thought about the kind of stories he’d enjoyed writing, it seemed only natural that forests would play a feature role.

Author Dave Hugelschaffer's new book One Careless

combines mystery and suspense with scientific

details of forest-fire investigation


One Careless Moment (Cormorant, 2009) is the second
book in Hugelschaffer’s Porter Cassel mystery series and finds the eponymous Cassel in Montana, on loan from the Alberta Forest
Service, to help with an outbreak of fires. Things turn ugly fast when a sudden
burnover claims the life of a firefighter during an arson investigation and Cassel is blamed for the death and
ordered to go home. But before he can leave town Cassel is confronted by the victim’s
daughter, who believes her father’s death was no accident.


weaves together elements of the mystery and suspense genres and skillfully
combines them with the scientific details of forest-fire investigation to
create compelling stories that the layman as well as anyone with intimate
knowledge of the rigors of forest firefighting can enjoy.

Recently Fire Fighting in Canada spoke with the
author about researching his works, his time fighting fires and his work on the
third novel in the Porter Cassel series, Whiskey

Forensic sciences and
investigations of this nature are very technical and detail-heavy. How much of
your writing process is strictly research?

I think
the research sometimes is actually a lot more fun than doing the writing. With
writing there’s a creative part and an editing part and I tend to do a lot of
research even at the conceptual stages. I have a bit of experience and that
helps me to decide if a story will work or not, then I might have question to
do with major plot lines. With the first book, Day Into Night (Cormorant, 2006) I did a lot research with the
bomb-squad in K-Division out of Edmonton. I had questions about the
dynamics of clues with the explosives and sometimes that research will help a
great deal to shape the plot.

Is that what led you to the
experiments with the incendiary devices you have documented on your website

Yes, I was a little worried about putting the incendiary devices on the web but
I think it helps give the readers some contextual information. I also do a lot
of research with fire investigators and the RCMP.

For the
new novel I’m working on, Whiskey Creek,
I interviewed some forensics experts in ident in Red Deer. One fellow I interviewed had
spent 11 years as a structural fire investigator so he gave me some information
on the nuances of a structure fire that a forensics unit might not normally
look for.

Is it difficult to incorporate the
technical details into the novels while keeping them accessible to a general

It’s a
balance and thankfully something I haven’t many issues with, but in reading
other mysteries and whodunits sometimes it’s not hard to see where an author
got too excited in the research, found it so interesting that they had to cram
it all in, but it’s a balance between the reader’s desire to learn something
and be part of the procedural world and advancing the story as well, so the
best way to do that is to embed the forensics info that drives the plot

The first
person present point of view is a bonus even for something as dry as forensics
because the reader gets to experience the tactile and personal experiences of
the investigator rather than a detached description of what’s happening, which
makes it much more immediate

One Careless Moment
is the second in the Porter Cassel mystery series.


Porter Cassel seems to share a few
of your skill sets. How much are your characters based on yourself or people
you’ve met?

I would
have to say most of them are, but they’re amalgamations. There is no particular
character identical to anyone I’ve met, or myself. You tend to take the
personality traits or quirks and combine them into a character. When it comes
down to it, people always write what they know, even if it’s subconsciously, so
you take a lot of the stuff that you’ve seen and learned and the personalities
you’ve encountered and you roll them up into different characters and stories,
so they’re all composites, although I do joke with some of the people I work
with –  I tell them not to piss me off or
I’ll kill them off in my next book!

You recently rejoined the Alberta Forest Services. Are you
still involved in fire fighting? And how did you get your start in forest fire

I’m an
operational section head. I was fighting fires actively up until about five
years ago. My first job with the forest service was with an initial-attack crew
and I found it very exciting, especially the initial attack crew, it’s sort of
the glory job, I found it interesting and exciting and for a student you make
quite a bit of money – that was my first exposure to it. Fighting fires is one
of the core aspects of being a forest ranger. When I first started it wasn’t
like it is today. They weren’t separated – you did everything: timber
management; land use; reforestation; firefighting. So I had the opportunity as
a part of my regular work load every summer to be involved with fires. It just
became an integral part of my job.

You’re working on the third Porter
Cassel mystery, Whiskey Creek, which will be set in FortChipewyan, Alta. How has it
been coming along?

I never
have as much time as I like, but right now I’m about one-third done the first
draft. It’s a bit like a glacier – it’ll arrive eventually.

Careless Moment
and Day Into Night are both available from Cormorant Books.

For more
information on Dave and the Porter Cassel novels visit: or

Carey Fredericks is the editorial
assistant for Fire Fighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter and EMS Quarterly magazines.

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