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Province announces wildland firefighter incentive

Up to $5,000 to be provided to front-line staff during 2024 wildfire season
Firefighters with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry are pictured hauling hose into an active fire area in Northwestern Ontario.

Front-line wildland firefighters will receive up to $5,000 this year as an incentive to work through the 2024 wildfire season.

The province made the announcement of $5 million for the initiative on March 21.

“Wildland firefighting staff work tirelessly under very difficult conditions to protect the health and safety of Ontarians, their property and our natural resources. This is a respected and challenging career in our natural resources sector,” Graydon Smith, minister of natural resources and forestry, said in a news release.

“In addition to this incentive, we continue to explore longer-term strategies and solutions to support attraction and retention of critical jobs for future years.”

Unions representing wildland firefighters have been critical of the low pay they receive to work in what is considered a high-risk position. One rep has suggested some staff rely on food banks and second-hand clothing stores in order to make ends meet.

With few opportunities to continue in the field beyond the summer season, many wildland firefighters get out of the field altogether, leaving less experienced staff to carry on in successive years, the union rep said.

SEE: Fewer recruits hampering Ontario’s ability to fight fires, union says

The province said more than 1,000 wildland firefighters and aviation crew members are eligible to receive the $5,000 incentive.

Additionally, the province said all other OPSEU-represented support staff in the Aviation Forest Fire and Emergency Services branch of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry would receive a one-time payment of up to $1,000.

The province is introducing other measures to strengthen wildland firefighting efforts. They include:

  • expanding eligibility for standby and on-call pay;
  • reimbursing eligible expenses related to training and other mandatory courses;
  • providing up to $500 annually towards the cost of special safety boots; 
  • actively marketing summer job and career opportunities in this important public safety program; and
  • creating more than 100 permanent positions to meet the demands of escalated and increasingly complex fire seasons.

“The Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) is very pleased to see the investment that the Ontario government is making to attract, retain and recognize wildland fire rangers,” Wendy Landry, the mayor of Shuniah and president of NOMA, said in the release.

“Northern Ontario communities battle forest fires each year and depend on our fire rangers to keep our communities safe. We all appreciate their tireless efforts not only to protect our municipalities, but also to contribute to the safety and well-being of our entire province."

More than 700 wildland fires were reported in Ontario in 2023, burning more than 440,000 hectares across the province, which is nearly triple the 10-year average of total hectares burned, according to the province.