Firefighting agency prepares, too early to predict season yet

By Sandi Krasowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

It’s business as usual at the Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES) as spring and wildfire season approach.

Despite the 2023 drought in the region and minimal snow pack, officials aren’t waving any red flags just yet.

But recruitment, planning and equipment procurement are underway.

Chris Marchand, a fire information officer with the Ontario ministry of natural resources and forestry’s AFFES agency, told The Chronicle-Journal that the fire season begins on April 1 and AFFES is preparing to respond should the fire hazard occur before then.

“Each fire season is highly variable and is based on actual weather trends that develop throughout the fire season, the type of fuel on the landscape in which the fire is burning, the proximity to values (structures) and impacts to communities,” Marchand said.

Typically at this time of year, contracts for goods and services are underway for the upcoming season. Some contracts are already in place while procurement for others is underway.

Ontario ministries, including the AFFES, must follow processes designed to make the procurement process fair, open and transparent. Marchant noted that goods valued in excess of $30,300, or services valued at more than $121,200 are put up for tender on the province’s Open Tenders Portal for potential vendors to bid upon.

“This happens for goods and services provided at a ministry-wide level as well as goods and services provided at a local level to fire management headquarters all over the province,” he said.

Marchand explained that when it comes to the fire suppression equipment used in day-to-day firefighting, Ontario maintains its own supply. When other provinces or jurisdictions make requests, the province often loans equipment to other parts of Canada through mutual aid resource-sharing agreements with the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre to help them get through a fire escalation.

Two of the most important item categories in demand are gas-powered pumps, of which there are 1,415 in the province, and 37,688 100-foot lengths of 1.5-inch diameter hose.

While living and working in the bush, a wildland firefighter requires fire-resistant work clothing, fuel, camping supplies, food and water. Marchand says the AFFES maintains mobile infrastructure resources, which include 100 deployable trailers that house kitchens, bunking areas, washrooms and command centres.

Food and meals are provided through local vendors who can bid on contracts to provide items such as food kits for fire rangers who are camping on the fire line.

“During times of escalated fire activity, or in the case of a fire that is being managed out of a base camp, camp service providers can be hired to provide meal services, shower facilities and washrooms,” he said, adding that there are private companies within Ontario that provide these camp services as well as Type 2 firefighting crews for mop-up and sustained action firefighting to support initial attack crews on a fire.

“Some of these companies may also provide required training courses and fitness testing for people who want to become wildland firefighters with the AFFES,” Marchand said.

The AFFES Provincial Logistics Centre, which is located at the Thunder Bay Fire Management Headquarters, has fire suppression equipment that can be deployed across the province as needed. Marchand said the facility also provides a central point for equipment maintenance, repair and innovation as well as cleaning and readying equipment for reuse.

For now, the main focus at the AFFES is on recruiting, hiring and training staff for the upcoming season. The application deadline to become an Ontario Fire Ranger (wildland firefighter) remains open until April 15.