How much was actually made on the firefighters in Canada?

According to government, firefighters who returned from Canada were "tired and jetlagged but accomplished their mission in Canada.

This post has been updated with information from Kishugu Holdings’ Working on Fire subsidiary.

The South African firefighters who were deployed to Canada last month returned to South Africa in the early hours of Tuesday morning as a dispute over their remuneration remains unresolved.

In statements to the media, John Heine, chairperson of Working on Fire rejected claims that the initiative was skimming from the $172.88* a day the Canadians were paying his agency.

Working on Fire told The Citizen that the figures quoted in The Daily Vox  on the earnings of the company are incorrect.

So we did the maths again.

According to John Heine, the firefighters were earning R720 per day while in Canada.

“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.

The ambiguity here lies in Heine’s statement that the firefighters were earning R720 a day while in Canada, while also saying that others earned much, much less, depending on their seniority.

Canada’s Globe and Mail, quotes Kim Connors, executive director of the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which was responsible for taking the firefighters to Canada, who said the amount paid to Working on Fire was meant to cover  “payroll burden, administration costs, training and other costs of preparing the firefighters to travel”.

There’s also the matter of the firefighters having signed a contract stipulating that they would be earning a $50 daily stipend for the duration of their Canadian deployment.

There’s also the matter of the government subsidy received by Working on Fire.

Nevertheless, we converted Heine’s figures (R720 + R50) into Canadian dollars, using an approximate rate of 12 rands to 1 Canadian dollar.

By Heine’s own admission then, firefighters were earning a maximum of $64 per day – leaving his agency with a surplus of $106 per firefighter per day.

In a statement, Working on Fire says the earnings from the Canadian contract was used for  comprehensive medical, personal injury, compensation and death insurance, mobilisation and demobilisation costs, remuneration and associated benefits to crew, supplies, training, travel and vehicle hire, personal protective clothing, equipment and incidentals.

Remember, the Canadians were covering the travel and living expenses of the firefighters in Canada. 

Our first revised calculations went like this:

$106 x 301 = $31,906 PER DAY goes to Kishugu Holdings, the holding company of the Working on Fire programme.
In rand terms that’s R382 872 PER DAY.
Per week it’s R2 680 104.
Per month it would’ve been R10m+ in profit.

WoF however disputes these figures, as they say, it does not take into account the costs incurred by the deployment.

The statement further says, “All WoF costs, while firefighters are on deployment, is recovered and used within the WoF Programme to employ additional unemployed youth. For this assignment it is R3,3 million which is CAD27 per firefighter per day or 17% of the total budget.”

Heine has also been quoted in the media saying the firefighters were “suddenly…demanding R3 000 a day”.

That demand is not unreasonable, when we consider how much the Canadian firefighters working alongside the South Africans were earning.


A graph by Twitter user Lynn Barbour showing what Canadian agencies are earning has revealed the stark disparity between the pay of Canadian firefighters, and their South African counterparts.

While the Canadian minimum wage is set at $134,40 South African firefighters would have been collecting about $60 (eventually, and not all of them) per day for their services.

And this is a fraction of what the Canadians earn. An average Canadian firefighter earns an estimated $350 (R4,186) per day, while some private Alberta agencies are charging the Alberta government $575 for each of their firefighters (R6,877) per day.


Featured image: Department of Environmental Affairs on Twitter. 

* We previously reported this as $170.

Editor’s note: On Wednesday afternoon, the headline of this article was changed.