Fire Fighting in Canada

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2020 OAFC Labour Relations Seminar a success

February 22, 2020
By FFIC Staff

Feb. 22, 2020, Toronto – In late January, fire service leaders and human resource professionals from across Canada gathered at the annual Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) Hicks Morley Labour Relations Seminar in Toronto. Attendees heard from legal experts, chief fire officers, and a variety of inspirational speakers. Presenters provided insight, up-to-date knowledge, and guidance on a wide range of labour relations topics that currently impact the fire service.

The seminar kicked off with a keynote address from comedian Jody Urquhart, who discussed leadership, the importance of positive thinking, and the benefits of laughter to decrease stress. Then, after brief remarks from Ontario’s Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton, attendees split into breakout sessions: urban and suburban/rural.

In the rural breakout session, Hicks Morley lawyers focused on some of the issues facing Ontario’s volunteer firefighters.  They spoke about the different ways to define volunteer firefighters: Are they actually volunteers? Or are they employees? The Hicks Morley team pointed out that the answer isn’t as simple as some may think. The lawyers also addressed one of the biggest concerns in the fire service – mental health and WSIB coverage and how presumptive PTSD legislation affects the fire service.

Meanwhile, the urban breakout session was also addressing mental health and discrimination in the workplace. During this session, the team of Hicks Morley lawyers stressed the fact that every discrimination case, or mental health illness, is unique and needs to be addressed individually, rather than a blanket policy. The presenters provided numerous suggestions on how to accommodate those suffering from these illnesses, such as treatment, unpaid leave, Last Chance Agreements, and other strategies.

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Continuing with the mental health theme, Ontario’s Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Michael Tibollo, spoke to investments the Ontario Government is making. He said his ultimate goal is for uniformity in mental health reform across Ontario.

“Mental health accessibility has been an issue in Ontario for a long time” said Tibollo, noting that one in five Ontarians suffer from mental health and/or addiction issues. “We are going to be adding $3.8 billion into mental health over the next 10 years.”

While strides are being made for firefighters who suffer from PTSD, there are still hurdles to overcome. It was estimated that about 10 per cent of first responders worldwide are affected by mental health issues.

Another major topic at this year’s seminar was staffing departments. While municipalities have the power to determine the level of fire protection they offer their residents, it was noted that there are statutory requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) that need to be considered.

Later in the seminar, Hicks Morley labour and employment lawyers gave an update on recent collective bargaining decisions and interest arbitration awards in the fire sector.

In his keynote speech, Nick Bontis, a strategy and management specialist, focused on the shortening of people’s attention spans due to technology. While 91 per cent of Canadians use the internet daily, Bontis noted that socialization is critical to forge meaningful relationships.

Keeping in tune with Bontis’ message, communications specialist Karen Gordon then took to the stage to speak about social media. Gordon encouraged chiefs to use social media to facilitate communication with the public and gave examples of how to properly use social media, and how not to. She noted that Instagram can be an effective recruitment tool for the younger generation, while Twitter can be used to engage the general public.

This year marked another successful Labour Relations Seminar for the OAFC, their event partner Hicks Morley, association sponsor Gordon Strategy and the many attendees.