www.firefightingincanada.com

Features Hot topics Opinion
Comment: December 2009

It was a good day.
On Nov. 4, Ontario Labour Minister Peter Fonseca announced the extension of workers compensation benefits to volunteer and part-time firefighters and fire inspectors.

November 16, 2009
By Laura King


Topics

It was a good day.

On Nov. 4, Ontario Labour Minister Peter Fonseca announced the extension of workers compensation benefits to volunteer and part-time firefighters and fire inspectors.

The announcement was two years in the making and the delay caused frustration and anger among the province’s more than 19,000 volunteers.

In May 2007 the province announced presumptive legislation for full-time firefighters but said it needed to work out details for part-time and volunteer firefighters.

In a nutshell, there was concern in some corners that volunteer firefighters could get cancer from other sources (their day jobs) and the province would end up footing the bill through presumptive legislation. The province wanted to figure out how to address that issue before extending the benefits to volunteers and needed evidence to support the volunteers’ cause.

Never one to turn down a challenge, Barry Malmsten, the executive director of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, knew that numbers speak volumes to bureaucrats and he did what he always does: a survey.

The OAFC surveyed its members about cancer rates and determined that the cancer rate was no different among volunteer firefighters who worked in potentially cancer-causing industries than among those who did not. Case closed.

In addition, the OAFC and the Firefighters Association of Ontario took a hands-on approach to convincing Fonseca and others that volunteer firefighters need the same protection as full-time firefighters.

At the OAFC conference in April, Fonseca and his staffers were asked if they could tell which of the several hundred chiefs in attendance were volunteers and which were full-time. You all know the answer.

And Fonseca and his handlers were taken to the Oakville Fire Department’s training centre and put through their paces in the training tower, wearing full gear and with live fire. Fonscea, a fit and strong Olympian who ran in the marathon event for Canada in Atlanta in 1996, was convinced.

As MPP Dave Levac said of the announcement, “It’s a good day today, because today the province recognizes the value that volunteer firefighters bring to the communities of Ontario.”

And, as Paris, Ont., Fire Chief Paul Boissonneault so eloquently put it: “The volunteer fire service doesn’t look for the big things. We look for the meaningful things and if there’s anything more meaningful than looking after our own I don’t know what it is. Today, we recognize that a firefighter is a firefighter.”

The moral: the OAFC and the FFAO worked tirelessly to get what they knew was right. They didn’t back down when a new minister was appointed in 2008 and they had to start from scratch. They got creative. They developed relationships with bureaucrats and other influential people. And it worked. Congratulations!


Print this page

Related



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*