Canadian wildfire fighters don’t want “catastrophe” to be “catalyst” for change

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when it comes to wildfires the conversation is often framed in Big Picture almost statistical terms total hectors destroyed number of people evacuated air quality index and the total cost of Damages but lost in this view are the people at the Forefront of Canada’s response to fires far from The Stereotype of anonymous Heroes hidden behind heavy gear is a difficult reality of intense pressure long hours and severe mental and physical health burdens yet in their voices we hear not just a warning but a prescription a call for Canada to reassess its relationship with wildfires and Wildfire Fighters alike from how we think of wildfires to how we can best support the people behind them how can the world learn to better live with fire in the era of the piracy people come from all uh backgrounds um you know uh training and experience and walks of life into into this career and there’s a lot of camaraderie among the team that’s David tavernini a Parks candada fire management officer who like many others got his start fighting forest fires during Summers as a university student working at the ranks in between semesters and realizing just how much he loved it but even then this was far from your average summer job every time these forces are deployed they’re putting their lives on the line a total of four firefighters across the country tragically died due to the wildfires last year including a 19-year-old teenager from BC Andrew Bas the young founder of the Canadian Wildfire network from Ontario has seen his fair share of these dangers when you work fire you do get very very close to people and you you gain a lot of trust you put your life in their hands and um it we began to realize it could like it could happen anywhere it could happen at a moment’s notice no matter how much precaution you take like sometimes you don’t hear a tree falling down because the roots already burnt for example um and it just brought things into perspective that it could happen to one of us and now a new dis report shows the many challenges facing firefighters both at the fire line and Beyond from falling debris to higher risk of cancer working up to 16 hours per day in heat and smoke can take a toll on both physical and mental health you’re really focused your adrenaline is running um and you’re uh you’re focused on the task at hand and I think really where it uh um really sinks in is on those times between deployment when you get home and you have the time to take a breath take a bit of rest um that’s when it that accumulative fatigue and the stress that’s built up has really kind of sunken in after a tough year last summer Crews have picked up right where they left off like Jane Park a fire and vegetation expert in Alberta a first generation Korean Canadian in a type 1 Incident Commander she’s not only fighting wildfires with prescribed fire but also pushing for more diverse representation within the ranks and making sure all crew members feel included while on duty you know we’ve had a number of really hard seasons and so they build up and um I can definitely see that stress in myself but also in my co-workers as well so so yeah there’s a lot of concern there with you know thinking about whether or not we’re going to have another season like that and and whether folks will be prepared to deal with what we just dealt with all over again around 5,500 wild firefighters are hired each summer across Canada however most fire Crews typically see high turnover rates with young recruits and low retention and a big part of that is a result of the fact that our pay our wages don’t necessarily match the level of risk we take on the the the amount of work we actually do and the general responsibilities that we take on as well base believes that higher pay and longer yearr round contracts for fire mitigation such as prescribed burning and fuel management are some of the ways to prepare for a future of more wildfires and longer Seasons it’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen it’s a matter of when it’s going to happen and by that I mean when is a community going to burn down when is someone going to lose their life because with retention we’re we’re seeing so much strain in our Workforce that at some point we not we may not be able to um effectively protect the community I I just don’t want a catastrophe to be the Catalyst to change in policy and how we manage fires and our our forested environment as fire Crews step back into their nomax and heavy duty work boots this year with memories of last season still fresh on their minds it’s not just forests burning up that have experts worried but people burning out as well and what that might mean for the risks we all face as we live in an age of fire Katherine Chang Global News

When it comes to wildfires, the conversation is often framed in big-picture — almost statistical — terms: total hectares destroyed, number of people evacuated, air quality index and the total cost of damages. But lost in this view are the people at the forefront of Canada’s response to fires.

Far from the stereotype of anonymous heroes hidden behind heavy gear is the difficult reality of intense pressure, long hours and severe mental and physical health burdens. Yet in their voices, they are not just issuing a warning — but a prescription. A call for Canada to reassess its relationship with wildfires and wildfire fighters alike.

“It’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen, it’s a matter of when it’s going to happen. And by that I mean when is the community going to burn down? When is someone going to lose their life?” Canadian Wildfire Network founder Andrew Base said. “I just don’t want the catastrophe to be the catalyst to change in policy and how we manage fires and our forested environment.”

From how people think of wildfires to how officials can best support the people behind them, how can the world learn to better live with wildfires — and just who are the people hidden behind the thick walls of smoke and flames? Global’s Katherine Cheng has more.

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