Ontario working to attract and retain more wildland fire fighters

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer
kkellar@fortfrances.com

The Ontario Government is stepping up efforts to attract and retain wildland firefighters as warmer summer months approach, along with a concern of increased forest fire activity throughout the province and beyond.

In an announcement made on Thursday, March 21, 2024, the province announced it was investing more than $5-million to help attract and retain wildland firefighters for the 2024 fire season to help protect people and communities across the province. To that end, an attraction and retention incentive payment of up to $5,000 will be provided to wildland firefighting employees in frontline fire, aviation and critical support positions that will support the upcoming fire season.

“Today’s investment reaffirms our long-standing support for wildland firefighters and pilots as we enter the 2024 fire season,” said Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford.

“Ontario’s wildland firefighters and pilots keep communities, families, and critical infrastructure across Northern Ontario safe, and our government has the backs of the hardworking men and women who bravely carry out this work each year.”

Currently more than 1,000 front-line wildland fire rangers and aviation crew members are eligible to receive the incentive, with the positions tasked with the critical work of detecting and fighting fires on the ground and from the air.

“Wildland firefighting staff work tirelessly under very difficult conditions to protect the health and safety of Ontarians, their property and our natural resources. This is a respected and challenging career in our natural resources sector,” said Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Graydon Smith.

“In addition to this incentive, we continue to explore longer-term strategies and solutions to support attraction and retention of critical jobs for future years.”

In addition to up to $5,000 being made available for frontline wildland fire rangers and aviation crew members, all other OPSEU-represented support staff in the Aviation ForesT Fire and Emergency Services Branch at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry will receive a one-time payment of up to $1,000.

“This new investment is part our government’s plan to ensure Ontario is prepared for the upcoming fire season,” said Caroline Mulroney, the president of the Treasury Board and the Minister responsible for emergency Management.

“We are always applying the lessons learned from past emergencies to build a stronger and more resilient province. This incentive recognizes Ontario firefighters’ exceptional contribution towards making our communities safer for years to come.”

The Ontario Government said the incentive payments are intended to build off of their ongoijng efforts to support wildland firefighting staff which includes expanding eligibility for standby and oncall pay, reimbursing eligible expenses related to training and other mandatory courses, providing up to $500 annually towards the cost of special safety boots and actively marketing summer job and career opportunities “in this important public service program.” The govenrment is also taking action to support the wildland fire program with the creation of more than 100 permanent positions to meet the demands of escalated and increasingly complex fire seasons. They say the positions will contribute to building leadership and experience within the province’s wildland fire program by adding new year-round positions that will support career path opportunities of fire rangers and other staff. According to the government’s press release, Ontario is internationally recognized as a leader in wildfire management, and its crews and support staff travel to other parts of Canada and the U.S. to assist in wildfire control efforts when needed.

“The Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) is very pleased to see the investment that the Ontario government is making to attract, retain and recognize wildland fire rangers, said NOMA president and mayor of Shuniah Wendy Landry.

“Northern Ontario communities battle forest fires each year and depend on our fire rangers to keep our communities safe. We all appreciate their tireless efforts not only to protect our municipalities, but also to contribute to the safety and well-being of our entire province.”

According to the provincial government, more than 700 wildland fires were reported in Ontario in 2023, which burned more than 440,000 hectares of land, which it says is nearly triple the 10-year average of total hectares burned.

The public can help prevent forest and wildland fires in Ontario by building safe campfires when camping, practicing safe shore lunch habits, and being aware of the fire risks of ATVs and firearms. Each member of the public is responsible for the fires they start in the province, with individuals possibly facing a fine of up to $25,000 or no more than three months in jail for violating Ontario’s Forest Fire Prevention Act.

For more information about how to help prevent forest and wildland fires this season, visit the government’s web page at https://www.ontario.ca/page/how-prevent-forest-fires.