“Whether it’s their neighbours or people thousands of kilometres away, wildland firefighters recognize they have a responsibility to do what they can to help, even when it means risking their own health and safety,” — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (16 Aug. 2018) — The British Columbia government’s declaration of a state of emergency to respond to the hundreds of wildfires in the province underlines the seriousness of the dangers that the workers who fight wildfires face. Many of those workers belong to National Union of Public and General Employees' (NUPGE) Components.
“Every summer wildland firefighters face dangerous conditions to protect their communities and the forests and wilderness,” said Larry Brown, NUPGE president. “For families who are forced from their homes, wildfires are devastating. Without the commitment and courage of wildland firefighters, the damage would be far worse.”
Firefighters a symbol of the responsibility we have for each other
Every year wildland firefighters are going to where they are most needed. Often they’re sent to other provinces. Sometimes it’s to other countries.
This spring firefighters from Ontario were helping fight fires in Manitoba. In July, firefighters from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, PEI and the Northwest Territories helped fight fires in Ontario. Now firefighters are heading to BC. Help is even coming from other countries — and Canadian wildland firefighters have go as far away as Australia to help.
“Whether it’s their neighbours or people thousands of kilometres away, wildland firefighters recognize they have a responsibility to do what they can to help, even when it means risking their own health and safety” said Brown.
Need to do everything possible to reduce danger for firefighters
In July, an Alberta wildland firefighter died when helping to fight a wildfire in Ontario. Sadly, this is not an isolated occurence.
In the past, NUPGE has called for more support for wildland firefighters, particularly from the federal government.
According to Natural Resources Canada, “climate change during the 21st century is expected to result in more frequent fires in many boreal forests, with severe environmental and economic consequences.” That makes increased federal government involvement all the more urgent.
The dangers wildland firefighters face are not limited to when they're fighting fires. Just as for other firefighters, for wildland firefighters there are long-term health consequences, including PTSD.
“We owe it to the workers fighting wildfires to do everything possible to make their jobs safer,” said Brown. "This has to include both better support when they are fighting fires and help dealing with the impact on their physical and mental health afterwards."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE