One of the largest pulp-and-paper producers in the world has launched a major wildfire prevention initiative in the wake of large-scale forest fires in its home country of Indonesia last year. And the company is turning to its B.C. connections to do it.
Asia Pulp and Paper has contracted Parksville-based TREK Wildland Services to provide 400 workers with training on a standardized, coordinated emergency response system, commonly known as ICS. TREK is one of two companies assisting Asia Pulp and Paper with the initiative — South Africa’s Working on Fire is the other.
TREK president Phil Taudin-Chabot said he visited sites in Sumatra and East Kalimantan during a three-week tour earlier this year, and a team of his company’s experts are on the ground in Indonesia this month.
“I think the people who have worked in the fire business in B.C., we have a pretty good international reputation,” said Taudin-Chabot. “And there’s a lot of commonality in emergency management focusing on fire, no matter where you go in the world. … We can help deliver a higher-level focus on this. It’s always been a B.C. focus, and that’s something TREK wants to continue to build on.”
The contract came about, Taudin-Chabot said, after an Asia Pulp and Paper sustainability officer worked as a forester in B.C.
“He was well aware … of the professionalism and the quality of service of the wildfire branch of the provincial government, their program, their reputation,” Taudin-Chabot said. “Knowing that, Asia Pulp and Paper wanted to reach out to people in B.C. who are able to assist them with their fire-management program.”
Asia Pulp and Paper is also partnered with Paper Excellence, which owns a number of mills in B.C.
Indonesia was hit by severe wildfires last year, mostly caused by local farmers employing slash-and-burn practices to clear land. During the dry season, the fires result in smog advisories in Indonesia, as well as in nearby Singapore and Malaysia.
Ian Lifshitz, Asia Pulp and Paper’s North American director of sustainability and public affairs, said the company has a strict zero-burn policy for its Indonesian suppliers, but it is still crucial for the company to upgrade its wildfire detection, prevention and management systems as it tries to evolve into a more environmentally responsible operator.
“That (zero-burn) policy has always been in place,” Lifshitz said. “Obviously, this year, this issue came about, and we’ve identified that we need to scale up other parts of our program, looking at things like prevention and detection and rapid response as we evolve our policy to a more holistic view. I think the issues caused us to increase and grow the initiative at a more rapid pace.”
He added that, despite Indonesia being tropical, B.C.’s landscape offers some striking similarities, and in turn offers a good model for fire management know-how.
“The situation is really not that far apart, things like the size of the land and the forest,” Lifshitz said. “So there’s obviously some crossover in terms of forest fire management, and working with a B.C. company is a logical fit, especially one that has an expertise to fight fires on these scales.”
Taudin-Chabot said he hopes this contract opens the door for more B.C. fire-safety businesses to access the Indonesian market, adding that TREK will try to build on this relationship to provide more services and links to Canadian partners.
“We have other companies that grew up here in Canada, in B.C., that help with the fire prevention program,” he said. “Through our networks, we would also champion those Canadian companies.”