(TORONTO – July 21, 2011) – As hot, dry and windy conditions continue to fuel devastating forest fires across northern Ontario, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas paid tribute today to more than 1,500 union members working for the Ministry of Natural Resources who find themselves at the centre of rescue and fire-suppression efforts.
“Our thoughts and support go out to the thousands of residents who are being evacuated from their communities because of the debilitating effects of the forest fires,” Thomas said. “We can only imagine how much worse conditions would be without the brave and tireless work being performed by OPSEU members who find themselves on the frontlines of firefighting and community-evacuation efforts.”
While fire fighters and water bomber and helicopter pilots are the most recognized and often grab the headlines, Thomas wanted to remind the public that there is a host of other OPSEU members whose work is essential to the firefighting efforts. “Radio operators, fire clerks, fire detection personnel, warehouse staff, equipment maintenance and repair staff, support staff that arrange accommodation and food, and staff liaisons with First Nations all play essential roles during the forest fire season,” he said. “Our members are professionals of the finest kind. They, too, are risking their health and safety so that others may find relief from the destructive effects of the blazes.”
Thomas pointed out that Ontario’s firefighting and evacuation operations are taking place against a background of severe underfunding over the past 15 years.
“There are few ministries that have experienced the kind of slashes to their funding as has the MNR,” Thomas said. “Our members are working under incredible shortfalls. Staffing and budgets have never fully recovered from the deep funding cuts put into place by the government of Mike Harris in the 1990s. Still, our members perform heroic work under these conditions.”
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