Mexico heads to Canada to help fight fires, but not everyone’s happy

Edmonton, Alberta –  Several contract firefighting companies in Alberta are upset with the government’s decision to enlist Mexican firefighters in their bid to help with the wildfire outbreak.

With more than 90 wildfires raging in northern Alberta, the government called up 62 firefighters from the Mexican state of Jalisco who arrived in Edmonton on Wednesday.

The firefighters from Mexico will soon join the other 1,700 from across Canada who are helping in the battle.

Hector Trejo, one of the Mexican firefighters, says, “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?”

Yet, local firefighting companies feel left out, saying they should have been called upon first. Kris Liivan of Arctic Fire Safety Services, says companies such as his are “ready to work with the government to put these fires out” and should have been called upon for help.

“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.

Both Liivan and Gaalass are from private Alberta companies contracted to ensure industrial fire safety mainly in the oil industry. Wildfire officials explain that the work was outsourced to ensure specific firefighting standards.

Geoffrey Driscoll, a wildfire information officer explained, “We don’t use volunteer firefighters because we have to have a certain level of training.”

Instead, Alberta hired Mexican firefighters that they worked with in the past, dating back to 2005. Their long-time relationship ensures those standards will be met.

“We’ve helped them train those firefighters to our standards,” Driscoll said.

With so many wildfires and little help, Driscoll said that Alberta does not have the luxury of choosing where the 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.

Driscoll said the province is grateful for the help.

“Every little bit helps and we’re certainly happy that our partners in Jalisco were able to give us firefighters,” he said. “They’ve got a big job ahead of them joining the other 1,700 firefighters who are here. So they’re going to get to work and they’re going to get these fires contained as quickly as possible.”

Trejo says the firefighting in the state of Jalisco season ended a week ago, about the time they received the request to come to Alberta.

The 62 brigadistas will begin getting ready on Thursday to join the other firefighters. They will be in the province for at least two weeks.

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