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Union representing forest firefighters sounding alarm over staffing shortage ahead of fire season


The union representing forest firefighters across the province is sounding the alarm about a staffing shortage for this upcoming fire season.

Reps with OPSEU said they’ve tried to discuss the issue with Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Graydon Smith, but said their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

On Friday, members waited to speak with Smith as he was leaving an event in Timmins. When he drove by, he told them he appreciated their work but didn’t stay to talk.

It’s the closest the firefighters have managed to speak with him since Smith met with their union last August.

“He hasn’t been returning our calls, he hasn’t been keeping true to what he’s been talking about in those meetings and we just want to kind of remind him that we’re still here and that we’re really not going anywhere,” said fire operations technician Neil Seguin.

“We did tell him how urgent this was, our situation was with the fire program.”

OPSEU says it has tried to warn the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry about staffing shortages in forest firefighters in northern Ontario. (File)

OPSEU said it is a retention crisis. With four weeks to go before fire season officially starts, it said Sudbury’s base is down 30 per cent of fire crews it needs, while Sault Ste. Marie is down 70 per cent.

“It means we do not have the staff, nor the experience to safely protect ourselves, much less the people that we are employed to protect,” said OPSEU LOCAL 703 vice-president Noah Freedman, who is also a veteran forest firefighter.

Freedman said the experience level within fire crews is also limited, with many long-time firefighters leaving because of low wages and classification.

Not paid properly

“We are called resource technicians,” Freedman said.

“That means that we are not paid properly. They don’t recognize danger pay … It also means that this government still denies that we can get cancer and heart disease from our job and they will not include us in legislation.”

In an email to CTV News, the ministry said recruitment is underway with applications being accepted until mid-April. Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services has come up with short- and long-term solutions to improve recruitment and retention.

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“Actions put in place for the 2023 fire season and beyond include extending application deadlines, reimbursing tuition costs for new Fire Ranger recruits and expanding standby time and on-call duty options for eligible staff.”

The email added the ministry “will continue to make improvements to ensure we are prepared for and during the 2024 fire season.” Top Stories

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