Sorry Canada – Working on Fire

A group of South African firefighters have a break as they work to mop up hot spots in an area close to Anzac, just outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta on June 2, 2016. Almost 300 South African firefighters started working to put out hot spots today near Fort McMurray. Picture: AFP / Getty Images

The company that took the ‘dancing firefighters’ to Alberta has apologised for causing an ‘international incident’.

The South African-government-funded job creation company Working on Fire has released a statement to say that it apologises for needing to withdraw 301 firefighters from Alberta in Canada, which it acknowledges has become an “international incident” and despite Canada still needing to fight devastating wildfires.

In its statement, released late yesterday, the company says it has “successfully completed numerous international deployments in the past. We always agree on remuneration with our firefighters when going on deployments of this nature and, as in this instance, formal contracts were signed.

“We are a company that is proud of the service we deliver and over the years, we have proven to the world that we are experts in fighting wildfires. We are ultimately here to save lives, the environment, and property from the damages caused by wildfires.”

Its firefighters arrived in Canada on May 29 to much fanfare as the young men and women broke into song and dance at the airport and videos of this went viral. However, they weren’t working for long before news broke that they were on strike, demanding that their daily allowance of R600 a day be increased.

Working on fire said: “To have a dispute about remuneration, and to be accused of being unfair towards our people, is in direct contradiction of our company values.

“It is part of the firefighter ethos to first and foremost deliver an emergency service.

“We are extremely disappointed that we couldn’t resolve this internally before it escalated to become an international incident.”

It added that the concept of the company was not about profit, but about helping other countries in exactly the sort of situation that Canada is in.

“We are currently investigating the matter internally and wish to apologise to both the Canadian government and Canadian citizens for any inconvenience this may have caused.

“We wish to ensure the public that we are treating this matter with the utmost importance, and are committed to finding an amicable solution as soon as possible.

According to its website, Working on Fire is “a government-funded job-creation programme focusing on implementing integrated fire management in South Africa. We employ more than 5 000 young men and women who are fully trained as wildfire firefighters and are stationed in more than 200 bases across South Africa. Our firefighters are recruited from marginalised communities and trained in fire awareness and education, prevention and fire suppression skills.”

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