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Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry

Union says region still short on forest firefighters

By Randy Thoms Mar 7, 2024 | 2:36 PM

The official start of the forest fire season in northwestern Ontario is less than a month away, but the union representing forest firefighters says the region does not have the personnel it needs.

According to the Ontario Public Services Employees Union, the Ministry of Natural Resources’ Fort Frances fire district has six of ten fire crews in place.

There are six of ten in the Kenora fire district, seven of 15 ready in the Red Lake fire district, and four of 18 set in the Geraldton fire district.

Noah Freedman, a crew leader and a local vice president, attributes it to the ongoing health concerns being raised about the job.

“People are definitely interested in the job. The problem is who wants to soak in carcinogenic emissions without being recognized that those carcinogens can give you cancer,” says Freedman.

“We’re down fire crews, whereas provinces like BC are scrambling to double the number of staff they have. We’re losing half of ours. It makes no sense.”

“The Ontario government still denies that Ontario forest firefighters get cancer and heart disease from the job. And they expect us to do that for $25 an hour. 18-year-olds even realize that that’s not a fair deal.”

The Ministry experienced a similar shortage last year that was attributed to the lack of experienced crew leaders.

Freedman says the Ministry started calling back crews this week.

An unusually warm winter has left some areas without much snow.

Freedman says the concern of fire occurring before the start of the season is real.

“If you look at the Environment Canada temperature and precipitation outlook, as well as the drought monitor from the federal government, it’s not looking good. We’re going to be in a drought.”

The first fires in 2023 occurred in late April.