Ontario Forest Fire News Conference: “This is a life or death situation.”


President of OPSEU/SEFPO Local 713 and 30 year veteran forest fire worker, Mark Belanger, spoke alongside official opposition leader Marit Stiles at a news conference hosted by Ontario NDP on July 24, 2023. The conference was held on behalf of forest fire workers directly involved in fire suppression services – fire rangers, pilots, warehouse workers, mechanics, engineers.

Northern Ontario MPPs Lise Vaugeois (Thunder Bay – Superior North) and MPP Sol Mamakwa (Kiiwetinoong) also joined to speak to the disproportionate impacts on Northern and Indigenous communities.

They discussed the lack of funding for wildfire management programs and the retention crisis in Aviation, Forest Fire and Emergency Services (AFFES) due to the unlivable wages. In some cases, workers actually lose money for being on duty.

The work they do involves risking their lives to protect our communities and they don’t receive danger pay, standby pay for time spent on site, or compensation for travel, accommodation and food while at the base.

Watch the full press conference here:

To ensure forest fire workers are gaining experience and retain them the Ford government must recognize forest fire workers for the actual job they’re doing and compensate them appropriately. They are paid $22-26/hour despite working in high-risk conditions. They experience extreme danger (including inhaling smoke) and isolation from family for weeks at a time, in addition to a high cost of food and lodging .

To improve recruitment and retention of forest fire workers and protect Ontario’s people and land, workers must receive:

  • Higher wages
  • Danger pay
  • Standby pay
  • More full-time job opportunities (not just short-term contracts)

These are political choices and failures. It doesn’t have to be this way – the Ford government has the power to fix this crisis. That’s why our members in AFFES are organizing to take action. They need government support now before there are any further deaths this fire season.

Go to ontarioisburning.ca to send a message to your local MPP, the Minister of Natural Resources and Premier Ford to take action now.