Alberta wildfires: Government asking public employees to become volunteer firefighters

Click to play video: 'Alberta wildfires: Government asking public employees to become volunteer firefighters'
Alberta wildfires: Government asking public employees to become volunteer firefighters
WATCH: Government of Alberta employees with firefighting experience are being asked to volunteer amid the wildfire situation across the province. As Adam MacVicar reports, there are currently 2,500 people fighting the fires in Alberta – May 16, 2023

The Alberta government is asking its public employees to volunteer to help the firefighting effort as wildfires displace thousands across the province.

In a copy of the memo obtained by Global News, public service commissioner Tim Grant put out a call for employees who may have previous firefighting experience or training on Tuesday.

Grant also put a call out for employees who may have experience in wildfire support roles or have served as part of an incident management team in the memo.

“As you know, wildfires have been causing significant devastation to our communities, and efforts to contain these blazes continue,” the memo read.

“We are grateful for all the Alberta public service staff who have been working tirelessly to keep Albertans safe, and for the additional support we have received from other agencies and jurisdictions through this provincial state of emergency.”

Story continues below advertisement

Forestry and Parks Minister Todd Loewen told reporters at a wildfire update on Tuesday that the province needs all the help it can get to fight the widespread wildfires.

Calling on public servants is a good opportunity for people to help on the front lines, he said.

“The widespread fires, the amount of them across the whole province is affecting a lot of people, a lot of communities. So we’re pulling out all the stops that we can to try to get as many experienced people on the front lines as we can,” Loewen said.

Click to play video: 'Alberta wildfires: Province to provide financial compensation for volunteer firefighters'
Alberta wildfires: Province to provide financial compensation for volunteer firefighters

Loewen said public employees who volunteer to help fight the wildfires will be asked for their experience level.

The province will also provide compensation for volunteer firefighters who have to leave their jobs to help in the wildfire effort.

Story continues below advertisement

“We’re looking at each individual one at a time to see what their qualifications are and where we can best use them … If they need any upgrading, we’re willing to do that,” he added.

“We understand the lack of compensation for these volunteers may create barriers as some may not be able to leave their regular jobs to join firefighting efforts or continue their selfless work. That is why the government is stepping in to remove this barrier by supporting the municipalities, First Nations and settlements being impacted by wildfires, helping them cover the costs of compensating volunteer firefighters.”

The province’s call comes after wildfires burned through 616,000 hectares so far this year.

As of Tuesday, the province said approximately 19,479 Albertans remain displaced because of evacuation orders prompted by wildfires.

It also comes after the United Conservative Party received criticism for cutting the province’s Rapattack program in 2019 despite pleas from municipalities to keep the service.

Rapattack firefighters are rappelled from helicopters to douse wildfires while they still only covered a few hectares. They could extinguish small fires before they merge and clear landing spaces for other helicopters to bring in crews and gear.

Alberta Wildfire’s Christie Tucker said the province is relying on firefighters from other jurisdictions to help fight the wildfires.

Story continues below advertisement

Currently, there are 2,500 wildland firefighters in Alberta, including 60 from Ontario that arrived on Saturday.

“One of the ways we’ve been using these out-of-province resources is to assist with incident management teams to help and ensure the folks fighting the fire are full of energy and doing their best,” she said.

— with files from Emily Mertz, Global News and Bob Weber, The Canadian Press.

Sponsored content