TORONTO, July 2, 2013 /CNW/ - OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas has
extended heartfelt condolences to the community and families of the
victims of a flash fire that took the lives of 19 brave firefighters in
the state of Arizona on June 30.
"On behalf of OPSEU's 130,000 members, many of whom serve as first
responders and some as firefighters within the Ministry of Natural
Resources, I am saddened by your loss and feel your pain," Thomas said.
"These are dangerous jobs and the people who perform them are selfless
and dedicated. They are heroes, pure and simple."
Sparked by lightning, the blaze took the lives of all but one of an
elite 20 member crew as they attempted to take cover. According to
reports, U.S. President Barack Obama was quoted as saying, "This will
change the way governments deal with increasingly destructive
"No doubt climate change is the wild card in the propensity and severity
of wild fires," Thomas said. "Every day, OPSEU members put their lives
on the line protecting our at-risk communities. Yet until tragedy
strikes these workers appear as an afterthought," Thomas offered.
Here in Ontario, seasonal firefighters in the north face the same risks
and challenges. However, recent changes to Canada's Employment
Insurance Act have put a financial strain on these workers.
"The Harper government's recent changes to EI have many of these brave
men and women wondering why governments don't seem to appreciate their
work and bravery," Thomas said. "Fighting wild fires may be seasonal
work, but it isn't part-time work."
Recent amendments disqualify these workers from receiving employment
insurance benefits in the winter months, and this has led to some
reconsidering their career path. "It's tough to support a family with
no money coming in," said Len Sedore, president of OPSEU Local 623. "At
the same time it's tough to blame potential employers who resist hiring
you in the down months knowing that you will be leaving when fire
season resumes. Still, this is our passion. It's what we live to do."
Thomas summed up, "President Obama is right. Governments have to change
the way we deal with wildfires and the people who keep us safe. I
normally wouldn't politicize such a tragedy, but if this loss doesn't
inspire change then we have abandoned the victim's legacies and risk
sacrificing the future of the brave men and women who continue to serve
so that we remain safe. Heroes' work is full-time work. Let's recognize
that in real time, not just in ceremony."
For further information:
Warren (Smokey) Thomas 613-329-1931