Volunteer Firefighters Support New Protections That Will Keep Our Forces Strong
Kawartha Lakes, ON—Volunteer firefighters and their families gathered today to meet Ontario Labour Minister Laurie Scott to thank her for taking steps to strengthen the volunteer fire service and to protect full-time firefighters who also serve as volunteers in their off hours. The new protection is part of the mini budget bill that was introduced by Finance Minister Vic Fedeli with the Fall Economic Statement on November 15.
“We applaud the action taken by Minister Scott and the Ford government to protect double hatters and to effectively support the hundreds of volunteers serving in Kawartha Lakes and the thousands in over 400 fire departments across the province,” says Ian DeWaard, CLAC Ontario director. “The volunteers that our organization represents, and who are also full-time firefighters, have faced bullying, discipline, and the threat of firing. This is not the way to treat the heroes who protect our communities.”
The provincial government calculates that there are 19,000 volunteers serving in 410 of 441 fire departments, meaning a full 90 percent of Ontario’s municipalities count on volunteer responders. Since 2001, the union that represents full-time firefighters has forced over 1,500 firefighters to resign their volunteer positions. It was able to do this by expelling from membership (or threatening to expel), disciplining, or fining any of their members who were caught serving as a volunteer firefighter, something referred to as “double hatting.”
The proposed change to the law, which could be passed this fall, will prevent the full-time firefighters’ union from punishing its members simply because those members choose to use their skills to protect their home communities in their off time.
“Our members are relieved that this issue is finally being addressed, and that Ontario now provides the same protection to two hatters already offered in every other province,” says Craig Follett, station captain in Omemee, Ontario.
“This is a matter of public safety, especially for rural communities in my riding and across Ontario,” says Hon. Laurie Scott, MPP for Haliburton – Kawartha Lakes – Brock. “Never again will these heroes be persecuted for volunteering in their communities. Our first-responders might be the last Ontarians to get this freedom, but they are finally getting the freedom to volunteer.”
CLAC, which represents the 350 volunteer firefighters in Kawartha Lakes and 1,200 volunteer firefighters across Ontario, has been calling for this change to protect volunteer firefighters since 2002.
(Province must do more to protect Ontario’s volunteer firefighters—Waterloo Region Record, October 25, 2018)