Oct. 25, 2010, Walkerton, Ont. - The town of Walkerton, Ont., may be short a volunteer firefighter thanks to the local hospital. Unlike many other employers in the community, the South Bruce Grey Health Centre is refusing to allow a volunteer firefighter the ability to leave for fire calls as a consequence of the hospital's controversial restructuring of its food services and housekeeping divisions.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union was told by SBGHC vice-president Brenda Rantz that a 30-year employee will no longer be able to attend to fires and other emergencies such as vehicle accidents when the hospital moves next year to its new multi-site, multi-purpose workforce
"Given the volunteer firefighter is a hospital support staff member and not a surgeon, or clinical staff, it is hard to understand why the hospital would forbid him from responding to fire emergencies in the community," says OPSEU president Warren Thomas. "Private- and public-sector employers regularly contribute staff to the volunteer fire department. It has never been a problem for the hospital in the past. Why should SBGHC be exempt from contributing now?"
The union argues that hospital administrators simply don't understand how important volunteer firefighters are to the small communities they serve.
The multi-site, multi-purpose workers will be assigned to deliver the re-thermalized meals to patients, then move on to clean the hospital afterwards. The hospital insists that they travel among the four sites, even though the hospital has never had difficulty filling shifts at each location.
Typically the Walkerton Fire Department, which also serves surrounding Brockton, receives about 150 calls a year, of which an estimated 30 to 50 would fall during an average volunteer firefighter's work day.