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As B.C. wildfire season begins, staff recruitment ramps up

Last Updated Jun 23, 2021 at 6:55 pm PDT

Annis Bay fire (Courtesy BC Wildfire Service @BCGovFireInfo)

With another BC wildfire season upon us, there are concerns about finding enough people to staff the fire lines

Western Forestry Contractors Association after relatively quiet wildfire seasons it may be difficult to find crews

But the pandemic has actually increased the number of people entering the forestry sector

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — B.C. could be in for a busy wildfire season, so the pressure is on to make sure there are enough crews to fight the flames this summer.

John Betts speaks for the Western Forestry Contractors Association, which provides firefighting personnel on top of the permanent staff used by the BC Wildfire Service.

After a couple of relatively quiet wildfire seasons, he says it may be challenging to find crews, as some people have since moved on.

“What happens is that, during those busy years, it’s not hard to get workers because there’s lots of work for them and they get lots of hours and they’re happy, but if you go a couple of years where things are quiet, then the workers may drift off and find work in other sectors. They may leave the sector entirely.”

However, says the pandemic has actually increased the number of people entering the forestry sector.

“We’ve actually found lots of applicants, lots of people looking for work, in part because other sectors are closed down,” he says. “So COVID has had an interesting effect on the tree planting sector, and it’s actually sent more people applying for work.”

Tree-planters can become firefighters, but Betts says not without considerable training.

“We need to be looking at how can we make use of all the available potential wildfire staff, and get them to the level where they’re all capable of working safely in this very hazardous work. We’re looking at that as a long-term strategy which we need to be developing with partners like the BC Welfare Service.”

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Betts says COVID-19 has actually seen more people entering the forestry sector, specifically tree-planters since other parts of the economy have fully or partially shut down.

With files from Crystal Laderas