Wildfires: Canada struggles to recruit firefighters


Provincial officials say Canada is grappling with its worst wildfire season ever, but recruiting firefighters has become increasingly difficult due to the tight labor market and difficult nature of the work. .

Limited resources could threaten Canada’s ability to put out fires, which are expected to grow larger and more intense in the future due to fossil fuel-driven climate change, which causes more more damage to communities and disrupted the country’s oil and gas, mining and timber industries.

A Reuters survey of all 13 provinces and territories found that Canada employs about 5,500 wasteland firefighters, excluding the remote Yukon territory, which did not respond to requests for information. .

That’s about 2,500 firefighters short of what’s needed, said Mike Flannigan, a professor at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia and a wildfire expert.

“It’s hard work, it’s hot, it’s smoky, and it’s got real health problems in the long run,” says Flannigan. “It’s getting harder and harder to recruit and retain people.”

This year, Ontario extended the application period, ramped up its marketing efforts, and started covering training costs to ensure more recruits. Applications have dropped in British Columbia and Nova Scotia, and Alberta has had to make multiple rounds of recruitment to fill its ranks, officials said.

Canada’s provinces and territories share staff and equipment as required and call on international partners and the military in times of extreme need. But this year, record fires broke out in the east and west simultaneously, sparking a rivalry between firefighters and planes.

“This is the worst-case scenario everyone fears – multiple areas of the country are burning at once,” said Scott Tingley, director of forest protection for Nova Scotia.

Forest fire brigade works 12-14 hours a day, up to two weeks at a time, in high-stress, smoky environments, often in remote wilderness areas.

Seasonal work, longer bushfire seasons and uncompetitive base wages – from C$30 an hour in British Columbia to C$18 an hour in Manitoba – also frustrate people.

“We’re competing against a lot of other labor markets. It’s physically demanding and mentally taxing,” said Rob Schweitzer, chief executive officer of the BC Wildfire Service.

A week of cooler and rainy weather has cooled some fires across Canada but 6.5 million hectares (16 million acres), the size of Lithuania, have burned this year and the weather is exceptionally hot. Usually expected to return.


This year, record fires have resulted in Canada deploying about 550 armed force personnel and more than 1,700 international firefighters, paid for by the provinces, to bolster the squads. As more wildfires threaten communities, provincial agencies are also increasingly relying on structural firefighters to help protect homes.

But of the 126,000 construction firefighters in Canada, 90,000 are volunteers, according to the Association of Canadian Fire Chiefs, who are under pressure to protect their own communities while keeping day-to-day jobs at bay.

At the height of the wildfires in May and June, some provinces called for more firefighters. Alberta has deployed 157 people to respond to the government’s call, Nova Scotia sent its first group of volunteers of 30 last week, and Quebec has trained an additional 300 volunteers and forestry workers, who often do not participate in the forest fire fighting service.

Additional manpower is not cheap. Annual national wildfire costs have amounted to C$1 billion in the past six years, according to federal government data, and have increased by about C$150 million per year, according to federal government data. decade since 1970.

Most experts expect them to keep climbing.

The federal government is spending C$38 million on recruiting, training, and retaining firefighters and C$256 million over five years into equipment funds, and running a pilot project to train firefighters. structural fire. A spokesman for the Department of Emergency Preparedness said the government felt more investment was needed.

“The men and women fighting fires are doing a tremendous job, but there really aren’t enough of them,” said Ken McMullen, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.

(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren and Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Denny Thomas and Aurora Ellis)


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