"We owe each and every one of them a tremendous debt of gratitude. I could not be more proud of our members on the frontlines as they continue to face down the fires and protect our province.” — Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President
Toronto (20 July 2018) — Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) is paying tribute to the dedication and bravery of the hundreds of its members who are fighting back forest fires ravaging northern Ontario.
Fires have increased from 170 in 2017 to 683 in 2018
“These are true heroes,” says Thomas. “Their bravery makes us all proud.”
As of July 17, OPSEU/NUPGE members working for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) are battling 53 fires, including 21 that are not yet under control. There have been 683 forest fires in Ontario so far this year, compared to 170 in 2017. Northern communities have been choked with smoke and many residents have been forced to stay indoors or even evacuate their homes.
Meanwhile, support has been pouring in from across the country with crews called in from Nova Scotia and PEI to Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
All hands on deck
“Safety is number one. We all work together,’” says Len Sedore, President of OPSEU Local 623, and an IT worker with the MNRF. Sedore is part of a close-knit team in the Sudbury area, that includes firefighters as well as engineers, pilots, and warehouse and administrative staff.
This crew has been working 19 days in a row, with only a 2-day break to recuperate in between.
“All hands are on deck, and we are working flat out,” says Sedore. “Helicopters and water-bombers are doing missions all day long. We are working around the clock bringing clothes, food and resources to the firefighters out in the field."
The firefighters are living in forest camps in tents, far from their families. The forests are infested with bugs, and the smoke is inescapable.
Firefighters risk own safety to keep Ontarians safe
“We are looking after safety, and looking after Ontario. It’s in our blood,” says Sedore.
“The bravery and commitment of these OPSEU/NUPGE members is extraordinary,” said Thomas. “They are putting their own lives and safety at risk, so that our communities are safe from the dangerous flames and smoke. We owe each and every one of them a tremendous debt of gratitude. I could not be more proud of our members on the frontlines as they continue to face down the fires and protect our province.”
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