Toronto charity stepping up to help firefighters battle wildland fires in Western Canada

As the wildland fire season intensifies in Western Canada, Toronto-based charity GlobalMedic is working to get portable water pumpers in the hands of firefighters. Nick Westoll has more on the effort to help.

By Nick Westoll

As the wildland fire season intensifies in Western Canada, a charity in Toronto is stepping up its efforts to get supplies into the hands of firefighters.

“We’re right in the season now. Like you’ve already seen evacuations in parts of the country. This is just going to spread, it’s going to get worse,” Rahul Singh, the executive director of GlobalMedic, said.

At the organization’s headquarters in Toronto on Sunday, Singh showcased a key tool the charity developed: a portable water pumper that can be lifted onto the back of a pickup truck.

“What we’ve been doing is trying to get more capacity to local fire departments, right? There are only three ways to put out forest fires,” he said.

“The first is to control Mother Nature — obviously we can’t do that. The second is to bring in more personnel to fight the fires. The third is to give people more capacity.

“You can’t get a big pumper, a big engine, out into the woods. You can get a truck like that out in the woods and if that truck is now a fire truck, you can be right there.”

Singh said 67 of 68 portable water pumpers have been distributed with 20 more currently being built. Four of the units went to Grand Prairie, Alta. He noted there’s a special Alberta connection.

“The coolest thing about these units is actually Ukrainian refugees assembling them for us in Edmonton, so it’s kind of a nice story of … people fleeing violence, coming to Canada, using their skillset to build a kit like this and then us giving it out to fire departments,” Singh said.

“It’s just a smarter, more intelligent way of delivering aid because [we’re] getting more of these units out cheaper and right out the door right away.”

He added it costs the charity between $4,000 and $6,000 to build each unit.

Singh said he wants to get more of the devices to rural and First Nations communities.

“Last year was the worst forest fire season we’ve ever had: more fires burned, more hectares burned than ever before. Those are bad history notes to develop,” he said, noting the warmer winter hasn’t helped current weather conditions in certain spots.

“Right now we’re off to a pretty ugly start.”

When it comes to conditions on the ground in northern Alberta, the area has seen relief in recent days. On Sunday, the daytime high for Fort McMurray was 7 C when the typical daytime high for this time of year is around 19 C. There was also some precipitation.

Erin Staunton, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, told CityNews this relief won’t last.

“As we go into the summer, our seasonal forecasts are suggesting the likelihood the temperatures will be above normal for much of [Alberta],” she said.

“Later in the week, we do expect temperatures to rebound to what’s more typical for this time of year kind of into the mid-to-upper teens towards the end of this week.”

Staunton also noted the majority of weather stations across Alberta have been “recording below normal precipitation for the last several months.”

Back at GlobalMedic, Singh said the federal government needs to take a bigger role in emergency preparedness to help communities.

“We see more fires, we see more floods, we see more emergencies. As an agency like ours that’s worked in 83 countries, we’re saying federally you’re not as good as you should be on this file,” he said.

“We’re trying to get in there and talk to them and say, ‘Here are ways that you can improve,’ and that hasn’t been as successful as I would like it to be, which is why we’re putting together programs like this.”

While Singh applauded more money being set aside to train firefighters, he said crews and communities in Canada need much more access to various equipment.

Singh said the federal government should be looking at recent changes made by Emergency Management Ontario as an example of being better prepared.

He said GlobalMedic was among the groups that got grant funding to provide emergency equipment to a growing storage hub that can be accessed by communities in need.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today