In The News: OPSEU/SEFPO raises staffing and safety concerns as the North faces another forest fire season


As communities in the north face another season of forest fires, OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick is in the press raising the warning that provincial cutbacks to the recruitment – and retention – of fire rangers is leaving northern residents vulnerable.

In a CBC News report, Hornick criticizes the province’s approach to recruitment and retention of fire rangers, arguing that the offering of three to six-month contracts, rather than year-round employment, leads to a lack of permanent jobs and results in workers leaving the sector. Hornick also points out that the wage gap and the lure of full-time firefighting work with municipalities are contributing to the recruitment challenge.

From the report:

Adding to the challenge of recruitment is the lure of full-time firefighting work with municipalities – and their more lucrative salaries – which draws a lot of bodies out of the potential pool of firefighters, Hornick said.

“It should be a no-brainer that the wage gap needs to be closed, period,” Hornick said. “They need their pay increase, but they also need that contract problem addressed.”

“There is no world in which we think that fire rangers should be on short-term contracts at this point with climate change the way it is.”

Updated on June 9

From CBC Sudbury’s report Ontario will invest enough to fight forest fires, says natural resources and forestry minister:

JP Hornick, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) president, told CBC News the province was short 23 fire crews last year and short 50 for this fire season.

“There’s no way for the ministry to actually say anything is OK in aviation, forest fire and emergency services, frankly,” Hornick said.

“That’s less capacity on the ground to respond to fires. It means communities and residents in northern Ontario are facing real danger.”

And from CP24,  Number of forest fires in Ontario up compared to same time last year:

“There’s a recruitment and retention problem that’s directly related to the types of choices that the government has made about the lack of investment in fire Rangers over the years,” JP Hornick, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), told CTV News Toronto.

Hornick said she is seeing a 25 per cent reduction in the number of crews available compared to last year. Short contracts and low wages are contributing factors, she added.

“Even in sheer numbers, there’s just not enough people to do this work. But there’s also not enough people who are experienced and can lead this work,” Hornick said.

“These are people who are in some of the most dangerous fire situations you can imagine, and they’re paid less than municipal firefighters.”