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Province funds $20M in wildland fire management

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The Province of Ontario is spending $20.5 million on wildland fire management.

“We’re investing in aerial suppression technologies, including drones to help us detect fires earlier, we’ll be enhancing staffing capacity by hiring and training more critical fire response staff," said Graydon Smith, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.

The plan also includes research agreements with universities to understand the evolving silence behind wildland fire management.

The minister also expressed appreciation to the firefighters who put their lives on the line to protect others.

“They are the very, very best," Smith said.

"They are internationally recognized for a reason and I’m so thankful that we have so many wonderful and dedicated people."

But while the minister was inside the hanger outlining details of the funding, some of the workers he praised said they have been left out in the cold.

“We’re not invited to witness this announcement so we’re kind of questioning what the announcement is going to be and why we’re not invited," said Kevin Wallingford, fire crew leader.

Forest fire workers represented by OPSEU recently met with Smith to share concerns regarding job classification and compensation.

While the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Graydon Smith announced funding to improve how it manages forest fires, fire rangers question why they're not receiving a pay increase and suggest low compensation is why people are leaving the job. (Lydia Chubak/CTV News)

“We keep losing experienced people to more competitive wages such as mining, hydro, forestry and it’s just not that competitive job it used to be," said Wallingford.

"Unless you feel a sense of duty, it’s just not drawing people in any more.”

“These folks don’t know who’s going to show up back in the spring because their contracts have ended and they’re concerned that they won’t have enough staff to be able to properly look after Ontario forests," said Tara Maszczakiewicz, regional vice-president for OPSEU.

Smith said compensation is a matter for the Treasury Board.

“Labour challenges are not specific to this particular job, they happen in all sectors throughout Ontario right now but we want to make this an attractive place for people to work and we know it’s a career that many feel very passionately about so we’ll continue to work with our fire rangers," he said.

He said 660 fire rangers worked the front lines this year. 

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