With forest fires ravaging Northwestern Ontario, and our brave heroes battling to keep them at bay, we were deeply saddened to learn that a close friend and respected colleague has passed away in hospital after a medical emergency in the field.
Our condolences and thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time.
Out of respect for the family’s privacy, details, including the individual’s name, are not being released at this time. We can confirm that this heroic individual died while in service as a contract wildland firefighter through a third-party agency – working alongside OPSEU/SEFPO members on the front lines of this unfolding disaster. As a former firefighter with the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), he is well-known and well-respected among crews on the ground.
For all our heroes on the front lines, this tragedy hits close to home as crews continue to work in incredibly dangerous, and sometimes near-deadly, situations themselves. Our heroes are working tirelessly to manage these fires and keep residents out of harm’s way. In some cases, communities have no road access and there is an ever-looming threat that critical infrastructure, such as power and communications, could be impacted – further complicating response and evacuation efforts.
With shocking accounts emerging from the front lines, and in support of the urgent request from the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, OPSEU/SEFPO is once again urging the premier to declare a provincial state of emergency; to ensure the appropriate response level and resources are being provided to the North.
Words like volatile, dire and unprecedented do not adequately describe the situation. With such hot and dry conditions, projections for the coming weeks aren’t good. With continued lightning strikes and very little rain expected, this is a recipe for disaster. More fires are anticipated, and potentially thousands more may need to be evacuated. It’s time to prepare for the worst-case scenario so we can save lives.
As we mourn this tragic loss, we must recognize that the best way to honour our beloved friend and colleague is to do better; to declare a state of emergency and pull the resources required to overcome this crisis.
Such a declaration would show the seriousness of the situation; it would allow the province to mobilize a stronger response and encourage municipalities to step up and lend a helping hand as host communities to those in desperate need.
One death is too many; we must ensure all lives are protected.
Thank you to all OPSEU/SEFPO members who are supporting the response efforts, the MNRF and every hero who’s putting their lives on the line; our thoughts are with you, with residents, and with the family and friends of this lost hero. This crisis deserves a more fulsome response, and we will continue to demand it.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer