from Africa in Transition

South African Firefighters in Canada

June 2, 2016

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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A footnote to the May 2016 forest and brush fires in Alberta, Canada is the presence of three hundred South African professional firefighters. They had previously received training in the use of Canadian firefighting equipment. Air Canada transported the firefighters from South Africa to northern Alberta, a flight that lasted more than twenty hours. According to Canadian media, the flight was the first time Air Canada operated to South Africa.

The South Africans are part of Working on Fire, a South African government-funded job creation program with a focus on the marginalized. According to its website, it has five thousand men and women trained in wildfire fighting with two hundred bases around the country. Almost one third are women, the highest percentage of any firefighting force in the world, according to the website of Working on Fire.

Wildfires have always been a part of the ecology of South Africa, often used as a tool for the management of grasslands and some forests. There are two fire seasons: the summer in the Western Cape, and the winter almost everywhere else. As elsewhere, now most fires in South Africa are started by accident or through carelessness.

Working on Fire would appear to be an effective program that directly addresses marginalized youth, especially in the rural areas, in addition to meeting the need for wildfire fighters. It is not clear from media sources whether the Alberta government compensated the South African organization for wildfire fighting services, or instead paid the firemen individually.

More on:

South Africa

Civil Society

Heads of State and Government

Agricultural Policy

Canada

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