Contract firefighters keen to join B.C. wildfire efforts, but say they face barriers doing so

·3 min read
Arctic Fire Safety Services is one of many contractor companies trained to fight wildfires, and the president of the company says his crews are eager to help out in B.C. (Arctic Fire Safety Services - image credit)
Arctic Fire Safety Services is one of many contractor companies trained to fight wildfires, and the president of the company says his crews are eager to help out in B.C. (Arctic Fire Safety Services - image credit)

Private firefighting companies from Alberta say they're anxious to deploy to B.C. to help control wildfires, but despite repeated calls to officials, they haven't heard back.

Hundreds of wildfires are burning in the province, and thousands of residents have been put on evacuation orders and alerts as fires move closer to homes and communities.

Last week Thompson Nicola Regional District chair Ken Gillis told CBC that a shortage of security staff and the need for more support at emergency operations centres have left staff "exhausted."

"We're desperate for help but we aren't getting any," he said.

Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson says he's been advocating for more resources as wildfires have prompted several evacuation orders, alerts and highway closures in his riding.

"There's definitely a goodly amount of anxiety in the area," he said. "It's hard to convince people that we have all of the needs covered when we see fires that are being left to burn."

Maggie MacPherson/CBC
Maggie MacPherson/CBC

As of Saturday, there were just over 3,300 firefighters in B.C., including 101 from Mexico and 72 from other Canadian provinces, according to Emergency Management B.C.

The federal government also announced it will send up to 350 military personnel to join the firefighting efforts in B.C.

The B.C. RCMP has sent about 100 officers and support staff to help with wildfire evacuations, and more are on standby to be deployed if needed.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says he welcomes the help from the military because B.C.'s firefighting and evacuee support resources are "thin."

"I want to assure British Columbians that we are deploying all available personnel and equipment to fight the fires in communities across our province," Farnworth said during a press conference last week.

"Every opportunity is being pursued."

Arctic Fire Safety Services
Arctic Fire Safety Services

But some contract companies in Alberta that want to deploy their firefighters to help out in B.C., say they've faced significant barriers.

Kris Liivam, president of Arctic Fire Safety Services, said they have 40 firefighters ready to send at a moment's notice, along with heavy equipment and fire trucks. If they got the call today, he said crews could be in B.C. within three hours.

He said was challenging to figure out which agency to contact. The company has since signed a contract with B.C. Wildfire, but hasn't heard anything more, and Liivam is desperate to move his staff in as soon as possible to assist.

"One of my brothers lost his house last year due to a fire, so I know personally how devastating the effects of a fire are on a person and on their family and the anguish and time and pain it goes through to rebuild," he said.

B.C. Wildfire Service/Twitter
B.C. Wildfire Service/Twitter

Liivam said he's been calling other competing companies asking if they're experiencing the same thing, and the answer is always yes.

Heidi Lasante, vice-president of Safety Boss Inc., said the company regularly sends out information about what equipment and personnel it could make available to government agencies in B.C., but never hears back.

"It's really, really frustrating," she said.

"It's a really disturbing situation knowing we're not the only company that's available to help and we could go out and really make a difference out there."

In an emailed statement from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, in conjunction with the B.C. Wildfire Service, the government says requests for out-of-province assistance are made through the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which coordinates sharing resources within Canada, and firefighters must be trained to its standards.

They said contractors interested in supporting wildfire efforts should contact the representative agency in the province in which they reside.

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