MPP looks to make a move on dou­ble-hat­ter fire­fight­ing is­sue

Mike Har­ris hosts round­table talk with town­ship may­ors, fire chiefs

The Woolwich Observer - - NEWS - VERON­ICA REINER

De­spite some moves to pro­tect the rights of full­time fire­fight­ers who also serve as vol­un­teers – the so-called “dou­ble hat­ters” – more needs to be done, say Water­loo Re­gion’s ru­ral of­fi­cials.

Town­ship may­ors and fire chiefs gath­ered in St. Ja­cobs last week for a round­table dis­cus­sion hosted by Kitch­ener-Con­estoga MPP Mike Har­ris.

Fire­fight­ers who work for a city de­part­ment and vol­un­teer for their home­town’s ru­ral brigade have long been a tar­get by the unions in­tent on in­creas­ing the full-time ros­ter, leav­ing the sup­port of small com­mu­ni­ties to other groups. The is­sue back on the agenda af­ter sev­eral fire­fight­ers in On­tario were charged for wear­ing two hats. Most re­cently, there were four in Hal­ton Hills and five in Cale­don un­der the mi­cro­scope. They face fines of up to $24,000 for con­tin­u­ing the prac­tice.

Dis­cour­ag­ing fire­fight­ers from vol­un­teer­ing threat­ens a valu­able re­source to many small com­mu­ni­ties where on­call fire­fight­ers are the norm.

“There are so many vol­un­teer de­part­ments across On­tario. It may not be as big of an is­sue here – it could be­come one if things keep mov­ing the way they are,” said Har­ris of the dan­gers.

The In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Fire­fight­ers (IAFF) bans its mem­bers from vol­un­teer­ing at fire halls that cover the union’s ju­ris­dic­tion. It was put in place to en­cour­age the in­crease of union­ized fire­fight­ing jobs, where paid-on-call vol­un­teers are cur­rently fill­ing the posts. On­tario is just one of two prov­inces that has this rule, the other be­ing New­found­land and Labrador.

“This rep­re­sents dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices,” said Sue Fox­ton, Mayor of North Dum­fries. “It is also not con­sis­tent with sec­tion two of the Cana­dian Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms, which is that ev­ery Cana­dian has the free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion. The ac­tion of the union as it re­lates to dou­ble hat­ters runs con­trary to the guid­ing prin­ci­ples of the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

Bill 109, passed in 2015, was in­tended to safe­guard dou­ble-hat­ter prac­tices. It states that fire­fight­ers will not lose their jobs for en­gag­ing in “rea­son­able dis­sent” or if they have been fired from the union for dis­crim­i­na­tory rea­sons.

On­tario’s small towns, in par­tic­u­lar, chafe at the re­stric­tions, ar­gu­ing that hir­ing full-time fire­fight­ers would be ex­pen­sive and im­prac­ti­cal.

“You see dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions in dif­fer­ent land­scapes, and it pro­vides you with dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence that you may not see in the city, per se,” said Har­ris. “You would see stuff out here res­cue-wise that you wouldn’t see in down­town Kitch­ener, for ex­am­ple.”

At­ten­dees pointed to the in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence that dou­ble hat­ters of­fer when it comes to train­ing vol­un­teers.

“This is the only ca­reer right now in the pre-ser­vice pro­gram that they don’t do ride-alongs any­more,” said Welles­ley fire chief Paul Redman. “Where they did at one point; now they don’t. So the only way they can find ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple is if ei­ther they’re jump­ing ship from an­other full-time de­part­ment or if they’re on an­other on-call de­part­ment. It’s one of the only ca­reers where you don’t have some kind of ap­pren­tice­ship with boots on the ground.”

“So next steps is con­tin­u­ing hav­ing sim­i­lar meet­ings with the min­istry about this and dis­cussing what ex­actly the next steps re­ally are – how some­thing like this could po­ten­tially be brought about in leg­is­la­tion,” said Har­ris. “Whether it comes through a mo­tion in the House, whether it’s leg­is­la­tion driven by the gov­ern­ment cen­trally, what the tim­ing would look like on it – these are all things that I want to get some an­swers on.”

Lo­cal of­fi­cials gath­ered at the St. Ja­cobs fire hall Fri­day to dis­cuss fire­fight­ing is­sues with Kitch­ener-Con­estoga MPP Mike Har­ris. Among those tak­ing part were Wil­mot Mayor Les Arm­strong, Welles­ley Mayor Joe Nowak, North Dum­fries Mayor Sue Fox­ton, North Dum­fries fire chief Robert Shantz, Har­ris, Welles­ley fire chief Paul Redman, Wil­mot fire chief Rod Leeson and Wool­wich fire chief Dale Martin.

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