Working on Fire contributes to 2019 Wildfire Conference


Working on Fire

Working on Fire

Whether one “believes in” and blames climate change or not, the fact that wildfires are becoming a global concern is undisputable.

During the last few years, the world has had to deal with wildfires of disastrous proportions in Canada, USA, Portugal, Greece, Indonesia, Australia, Chile, Brazil, Australia and large parts of Southern Africa.

Firefighting fraternities worldwide are having to “up their game”. Both the frequency and severity of wildfires seems to be increasing. But on top of that, fire patterns are also changing, causing authorities to look outward for guidance from those who have “dealt with these kinds of fires before”.

All over, fire authorities have to do more research, put better systems in place, secure adequate resources, experiment with innovative techniques and establish strong relationships with other countries to help bolster resources should an unwanted wildfire – threatening human lives, properties and the environment – deplete local resources.

The Wildfire Canada Conference Series

The 2019 Wildfire Canada Conference took place from 18 to 21 November 2019 in Ottawa, Ontario and was co-hosted by the Province of Ontario and the Canadian Forest Service.

It aimed to bring wildland fire managers, specialists, researchers, and graduate students together, to learn about and discuss emerging trends and issues in wildland fire management, ecology, and science.

The conference serves as an opportunity to build stronger relationships, between people and organisations with an interest in wildland fire across Canada and globally.

Why these international exchanges are important:

According to Abrahams, these exchanges enables knowledge sharing and strengthens relationships between different countries and organisations.

“We had the opportunity to share who Working on Fire is, what we do, what we have learnt and that we are ready and able to assist where needed. I also had the opportunity to learn from respected colleagues.”

The Conference also included a number of workshops. He gave a special mention to a workshop on Risk Assessment of wildland-urban communities during which ways were shared to conduct risk assessments quicker and more effectively and, in so doing, reduce that community’s risk of wildfire damage.

Abrahams was also impressed by the large number of young Canadian researchers focussed on better understanding wildfires and forestry in order to improve systems and approaches.

“They have a very scientific and systematic approach and really strive to understand fire and its inherent risks. Their keen interest and passion for this industry seems to flow from their strong conservation culture and their pride of their forests and environment. Either way, it is remarkable and something I hope we as South Africans will adopt.”

He also pointed to how well Canada in particular have documented their wildfire data.

“They have easy access to over a 100 years’ worth of statistics and data which makes conducting research and future projections so much easier. This is another aspect which I would like to see us establish on home front.”

Working on Fire contributes to the Conference

Trevor Abrahams shared on “The Poverty of Fire Fighting: The dynamics of firefighting in South Africa”.

Trevor shared on the history of the Working on Fire Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), how: it helps elevate poverty through job creation, focuses on gender equality with nearly 31% of its participants being women, it uplifts and educates communities – all while saving lives, properties and the environment through integrated fire management.

“We also recently partnered with the University of Cape Town, who offer our former firefighters, who are in management positions, online short courses to enhance their skills profile,” Trevor said.

In addition to serving South Africa WOF has carved great working relations with a number of international firefighting agencies who welcome WOF firefighting crews with open arms during deployments.

Working on Fire has had numerous successful international deployments to countries like Chile, Indonesia, and Canada, with the last one as recent as June 2019, during which 45 wildland firefighters from the Working on Fire Programme assisted in firefighting operations in the Alberta, Canada.

In addition to offering support to the hosting country, these deployments are also a life-changing experience for these firefighters. It expands their firefighting expertise and enhances their job profiles. And since most of these young men and women are mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of them board a plane for the first time and get the chance to experience another country.


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