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Canadian wildfires highlight risk and safety issues

By Rental Management staff

June 11, 2023

Durante Rentals wildfire photo

Grand Central Terminal in the foreground looking up at One Vanderbilt skyscraper, New York City. Photo courtesy of Anthony Durante.

Canadian wildfires have burned through millions of acres, forcing thousands of people from their homes while challenging air quality throughout parts of the U.S. and Canada. 

Air quality alerts have been issued for millions of people in the U.S. during the past week while delaying or disrupting flights to New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., among other cities.  

The rental industry also has seen the impact from the wildfires from an air quality standpoint.  

An orange and red glow swallowed the New York City skyline starting the afternoon of Wednesday, June 7, as air quality reached critical levels. Durante Rentals, New Rochelle, N.Y., still serviced customers throughout New York City. According to Stephanie Rajzbaum, Durante Rentals vice president of operations, they had a few equipment cancellations due to their air, but most equipment was still needed, especially during the morning hours. The main priority of Durante Rentals was taking care of their employees during a unique situation. 

“We brought everyone in at every store and acknowledged what we could do. We closed shop doors and installed air scrubbers to make sure everyone was breathing the right air. Employees who didn’t feel comfortable could work inside or they could go home. We told anyone with preexisting conditions to talk to their doctor and take their advice,” Rajzbaum said. 

Durante Rentals also provided face masks to anyone who wanted to wear one.  

“It was a very exceptional situation and hard to breathe,” Rajzbaum said.    

Geoff Grainger, regional development manager with Stephenson’s Rental Services, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, said his area is being impacted by both the Quebec and Madawaska (Ottawa Valley) wildfires. 

“Air quality is the issue, and we encouraged our staff to wear masks if they felt it necessary,” Grainger said. “Air quality is much better today (Thursday), but we are still monitoring the situation.” 

Rob McMullen, Stephenson’s regional development manager for Alberta, Canada, said his house was on a 30-minute evacuation watch on acreage outside of Edmonton during the wildfires. 

“We were only one range road from being evacuated,” McMullen said. “My wife and I had our passport, a change of clothes. We decided what vehicle to take. We’ve had some employees that have friends and family affected that were evacuated.” 

According to the State of New York website, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced one million N95 masks will be made available to New Yorkers as effects of the Canadian wildfires continue to impact the state’s air quality.  

Precautions are necessary, said Kevin Gern, vice president of education and risk management, American Rental Association.  

“As employers, we are always thinking about the jobs our employees are performing and what kind of safety gear or personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed,” Gern said. “This is especially true when the job involves cutting, grinding or welding in which we must think about respiratory protection. 

“Any increased particulate in the air that can be breathed in will cause respiratory irritation and could result in short-term or long-term effects. Having just dealt with COVID-19, most of us have N95 masks in surplus. If you are experiencing smoky conditions in your area as a result of these wildfires, it would be recommended to dig out those masks and put them to good use,” he said. 

A statement issued from President Joe Biden on the Canadian wildfires said that since May, more than 600 U.S. firefighters, support personnel and firefighting assets have been deployed and working alongside Canadian firefighters, “to tackle what is likely to be the worst fire season in Canadian history, and one that has huge impacts here in the United States.” 

The Centers for Disease Control offers detailed recommendations on protecting yourself from the effects of wildfire smoke at You can find the current air quality and updated public health guidance in your area at 

Impacted by the wildfires in Canada? The ARA Foundation can help 

Horrific wildfires in both the eastern and western areas of Canada have not only jumpstarted the worst fire season in the country, but also have forced thousands of people from their homes and caused thick smoke to cross the border into the United States, resulting in dangerous air-quality levels.  

The Reuters news agency reported that “about 9.4 million acres have already burned, roughly 15 times the 10-year average. Some of the worst fires have sprung up in the eastern province of Quebec, and more than 11,000 people had to evacuate their homes.” 

If your rental store or employees have been severely impacted by these fires, know that the ARA Foundation’s Disaster Relief Grants are here to assist.  

Two types of grants are available: 

 For more information on these services or to donate to the ARA Foundation, click here. 

For questions, contact Jill Peterson, program manager for the ARA Foundation and Government Affairs, at, or 800-334-2177, ext. 254.