Alberta’s got a firefighter problem

As Alberta braces for another wildfire season, alarm bells are ringing about the crew being sent out to fight them. 

Driving the news: The province is struggling to retain its seasonal firefighters, a problem that has left largely inexperienced crews fighting increasingly frequent and intense wildfires. 

  • The union representing the firefighters says less than half of them are returning to the front lines this year, largely because of low pay and a lack of health benefits.

  • Veteran firefighters say the lack of experience poses a serious safety threat, as firefighters with only one or two years of experience are now leading wildfire crews.

Why it matters: Alberta’s woes are part of a nationwide shortage of experienced firefighters. Career firefighters make up only 29% of all firefighters in Canada, while the rest of the positions are filled by a dwindling number of volunteers.

  • In 2016, 126,000 volunteers served as firefighters across Canada. In 2022, that number fell to 90,000.

  • Out of the hundreds of firefighters who travelled from other provinces and countries to lend a hand, most were sent to Alberta.

What’s next: Alberta’s hiring 100 more firefighters this year, but with this season expected to be just as bad, if not worse, than last year, some experts say it won’t be enough.—LA