OHS Canada Magazine

Forest firefighters in Ontario call out Ford government’s ‘complete disregard’ for their health and safety

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February 26, 2024
By OHS Canada

Health & Safety wildfires

A firefighter battling a wild fire. Photo: Adobe Stock

Forest firefighters in Ontario are calling out the provincial government for their “complete disregard” for the health and safety of those battling wildfires.

“Like urban firefighters, forest firefighters are at a higher risk of cancer and heart disease than other workers. While certain diagnoses for urban firefighters are presumed to be work related, forest firefighters don’t have automatic recognition for WSIB,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick. “Instead, they must jump through hoops to prove a strong causal link between their exposure and diagnosis – all while managing a serious illness. It’s shameful.”

Noah Freedman, an eight-year firefighter and vice-president of OPSEU/SEFPO Local 703, said the Doug Ford government “treats forest firefighters’ health as it does climate change — with a wilful ignorance for scientific evidence.

“The Health and Safety document we filed with the government, and their response, is proof that they have been willfully ignorant and negligent for years, expecting that no one was paying attention. Some of us are still here, we are all dying, and we will no longer be silenced,” said Freedman.

Last year’s wildfire season was record-breaking, they said. Forest firefighters spend 16-hour days, week after week, inhaling carcinogenic emissions to keep Ontario residents and communities safe, they said.


“Unfortunately, forest firefighters don’t receive proper health and safety training on the toxic conditions they are exposed to on the frontlines, despite repeated recommendations to the government, including from the Ministry of Natural Resources’ joint health and safety committee,” reads a press release from OPSEU/SEFPo. “Shockingly, forest firefighters are still advised to cover their mouths with dry cloths like bandanas – a method that was proven to be ineffective in the 1990s.”


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