Some firefighters upset over Mexican crews joining Alberta wildfire battle
Dario Balca, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, July 9, 2015 8:13PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 9, 2015 8:41PM EDT
Contract firefighting companies in Alberta say they’re upset with the government for enlisting the help of Mexican firefighters -- instead of them -- in the province’s wildfire outbreak.
On Wednesday, 62 firefighters from the Mexican state of Jalisco arrived in Edmonton. They will soon join the other 1,700 firefighters from across Canada battling more than 90 wildfires in northern Alberta.
“For most of the guys, this is their passion—to fight fires—and what better way to do it than in another country and help others?” said Hector Drejo, one of the Mexican firefighters.
But local fire safety companies say they should have been called upon first.
“It’s just sad that the government doesn’t utilize this service that’s here and employs a lot of people locally,” said Greg Gaalaas of Bravo Oilfield Safety Services.
Kris Liivam of Arctic Fire Safety Services said companies like his are “ready to work with the government to put these fires out” and should have been called upon to help.
Liivam and Gaalaas are both part of a network of private companies in Alberta that are contracted to ensure fire safety during industrial operations, mainly in the oil industry.
But wildfire officials say the work was outsourced to ensure certain firefighting standards.
“We don’t use volunteer firefighters because we have to have a certain level of training,” said Geoffrey Driscoll, a wildfire information officer.
Alberta’s 10-year relationship with the Jalisco firefighters, he said, ensures those standards will be met. The Mexican firefighters have worked in Alberta several times since 2005.
“We’ve helped them train those firefighters to our standards,” Driscoll said.
And with resources spread thinly across Western Canada, Driscoll said Alberta does not have the luxury of choosing where qualified help comes from.
“We’re trying to get firefighters from all over Canada, but much of Western Canada is in the same state that we are, so we’ll take the help where we can get it,” he said.
The Jalisco crew will be in the province for at least two weeks.
With a report from CTV Edmonton's Ashley Molnar