Posted on Nov 6, 2019

UCP cuts elite firefighting program, putting communities at risk

NDP Leader Rachel Notley, Ag & Forestry critic Lorne Dach and RAP firefighters

NDP Leader Rachel Notley, Ag & Forestry critic Lorne Dach and RAP firefighters

The NDP Official Opposition has learned that the UCP has cut an elite firefighter program as it continues to put public safety at risk to pay for its $4.7-billion corporate handout. 

The Wildland Firefighter Rappel Program (RAP), started about 40 years ago, is being dismantled. The program employs about 65 highly trained firefighters who jump directly into areas where fires have started. The program makes up about 13 per cent of the province’s seasonal firefighter force. 

“For the last 40 years, incredibly brave and highly trained Albertans have rappelled out of helicopters, sometimes right on top of the fire, and fought the flames that otherwise we could not reach,” said Rachel Notley, Leader of Alberta’s Official Opposition.

“Today, we learned that these brave RAP teams have been sacrificed to pay for this premier’s $4.7-billion-dollar corporate handout. This is a shameful cut that will put public safety and people’s homes at risk.”

Tom Weston, who worked as a firefighter in the program from 1998-2009, said the UCP Government will attempt to claim the RAP program is costly, but he added, “How do you measure the damage that didn’t occur because of us? How do you a cost benefit measure when you can’t measure what hasn’t been spent?”

Weston said RAP firefighters jump from helicopters into areas that have caught fire and attempt to contain the blaze to a hectare or less. 

“Forest fires do not get stopped from the air, much as Hollywood might have you believe,” Weston said. “They are stopped by boots on the ground spraying water, dirt, directing air tankers and buckets of water to the places where they will be most effective.”

Tommy Hoops, a current RAP team member, wrote online, “The dismantling of the wildfire rappel program in Alberta is a travesty caused by the careless and irresponsible conservative government budget cuts. How are we supposed to protect human life, communities, watersheds and soils and infrastructure when the provincial government clearly does not support us?”