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Firefighters walk on a forest trail near the Boundary Lake Fire, May 13, 2023.
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British Columbia says it has improved its recruitment system for wildland firefighters, in preparation for the next fire season which is likely to be “difficult “, according to Forestry Minister Bruce Ralston.
Usually, recruitment is mainly done in December and January. This year, however, it started in October and will continue until March, with a more aggressive campaign targeting rural areas and First Nations.
The efforts are bearing fruit, according to the minister, who announces that 1,000 applications have already been received, a significant increase compared to the previous year.
He says that since last summer's wildfire season, the most devastating in the province's history, a task force on fire situations emergency was created, and one of its recommendations was to increase recruitment.
This way, the province will have more firefighters available when the new fire season begins. Nevertheless, the minister expects the province to continue to call on other states and governments, if necessary. For example, last summer reinforcements came from Australia, the United States, and Brazil.
Rural and indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by forest fires […] It's good to be able to count on people who have knowledge of local conditions, says Minister Ralston.
These initiatives remove barriers and pave the way for greater participation of Indigenous people as wildland firefighters, says Wayne Schnitzler, executive director of the Emergency Services Corporation of First Nations, in the press release from the provincial government.
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This is a very positive announcement, adds Dan Derby, president of the province’s fire chiefs association. He served on the working group. This will give regional residents job opportunities in their cities. The changes will allow people to stay in their communities.
However, recruitment changes won't solve retention issues plaguing BC Wildfire, says a union that represents more than 1,200 firefighters in the province.
They never had difficulty recruiting people, it always went well. The problem is that once someone is recruited, trained and experienced, it is difficult to retain them. None of the new measures will solve this problem, says Paul Finch, interim president of the British Columbia General Employees Union.
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British Columbia experienced a record wildfire season in 2023.
The retention problem is mostly linked to employee compensation, says Paul Finch. He says, however, that his union views the recruitment changes as positive steps, and that he welcomes the government's listening with cautious optimism.
Even though we are in the middle of winter, 91 fires are still active in the northeast of the province. With the drought that plagued most regions of the province last summer, Minister Ralston expects the next season to be just as intense. Water flows are at record lows […] so obviously there is the possibility of a drier spring and summer […] It's difficult to predict, but generally the coming season is predicted to be difficult.
Everyone comes into spring with their eyes wide open, we need to prepare as much as possible for what could be a very busy fire season , again, says Dan Derby.
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