Firefighters deployed to Canada arrive in SA

2016-06-14 09:27
South African firefighters who were sent to Canada to help battle a raging wildland fire in Alberta. (Working on Fire, Facebook)

South African firefighters who were sent to Canada to help battle a raging wildland fire in Alberta. (Working on Fire, Facebook)

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Johannesburg - The 301 firefighters who were deployed to Canada to help suppress wildfires there have arrived home.

"They arrived in the early hours of this morning at OR Tambo [International Airport]," Working on Fire spokesperson Linton Rensburg told News24.

He said a meeting was scheduled between the firefighters and the Minister of Environmental Affairs, but declined to comment any further. He referred all other questions to the department's spokesperson Albi Modise, who was not immediately available for comment.

The firefighters embarked on a strike over their salaries shortly after arriving in Alberta, Canada. They had arrived on May 30 to assist with wildfire suppression, as part of a resource sharing agreement with Canadian firefighting agencies.

In a statement released on Monday, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa asked South Africans not to condemn the firefighters for their actions, saying that the group was no longer needed because of the heavy rains in the region.

- Read more: Don't condemn firefighters returning from Canada - minister

Molewa also said she had sent mediator from Working on Fire (WoF) to Canada to assist in resolving the dispute between the management of WoF and the team of firefighters.

An internal inquiry to ascertain what contributed to the dispute, would also take place, she said.

The team, which is from marginalised communities, have been trained in fire prevention and suppression, first aid, carpentry and health and safety, among others.

In a previous News24 article, WoF chairperson Johan Heine said the organisation was part of the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme aimed at creating job opportunities for South Africans who could not find work, enabling them to gain skills and increase their capacity to earn income, and to enter the formal workplace.

He at the time, refuted claims that the initiative was skimming from the $170 a day the Canadians were paying, and only paying firefighters $50 a day.

He said the firefighters were earning R720 a day while in Canada, "and suddenly they are demanding R3 000 a day".

They earned their normal salary - between R100 to R650 a day depending on their seniority, plus a R70 a day away from base allowance, plus a R50 a day out of country bonus, Heine said.

Read more on:    working on fire  |  canada  |  sa  |  fires

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