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Volunteer Vision: August 2009

Here are my thoughts on Bill 221 in Ontario. My simplified explanation of the presumptive legislation issue is this: If you are a full-time firefighter and you contract one of the following cancers – brain, bladder, kidney, colorectal, ureter, esophageal, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – or if you have had certain types of leukemia in the last 10 to 25 years or a heart injury within 24 hours of a call or training, it is presumed these diseases or conditions are work related and you or your family will receive benefits. I think this is a very good thing.

July 27, 2009
By Brad Patton

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Here are my thoughts on Bill 221 in Ontario. My simplified explanation of the presumptive legislation issue is this: If you are a full-time firefighter and you contract one of the following cancers – brain, bladder, kidney, colorectal, ureter, esophageal, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – or if you have had certain types of leukemia in the last 10 to 25 years or a heart injury within 24 hours of a call or training, it is presumed these diseases or conditions are work related and you or your family will receive benefits. I think this is a very good thing.

However, if you are a volunteer firefighter in Ontario and contract one of the above diseases or conditions it is presumed that the disease or condition is not related to your work as a volunteer firefighter and you or your family will not receive benefits unless you can prove the illness or condition is related to your work as a firefighter, which is close to impossible. I think this is a terrible thing and those who created this injustice should be ashamed. How could this happen? I believe this whole mess started with a provincial election and a powerful, well-run association doing what it does best: looking after its membership.

Bill 221 was one of the quickest to be passed by the legislative assembly. On May 3, 2007, the bill received first, second and third readings and the next day it received royal assent and became law. To give credit where it is deserved, the bill did, in fact, at one point include volunteer firefighters. Then, someone thought, let’s take the volunteers out of the bill and think about it a little more, and we’ll pass the bill only for full-time firefighters.

Why were volunteer firefighters suddenly excluded? Some background: The Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association is a strong supporter of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. The OPFFA worked hard to support him in many ways. I am not suggesting that Bill 221 was payback, I just know that I support people who work hard for me, and why shouldn’t I?

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So, why take out the volunteer firefighters? It would be one thing to say proponents of Bill 221 didn’t think about the volunteers but it’s a whole other issue when the volunteers were originally included and then removed.

Perhaps the powers that be thought, what if the volunteer firefighters claiming benefits actually got cancer somewhere else, like at their  full-time jobs? I don’t buy that argument. How many full-time firefighters do you know who don’t have a second job? With many full-time firefighters now working 24-hour shifts (which totals about six or seven days a month) of course they have other jobs, so that theory doesn’t fit .

Perhaps the powers that be think full-time firefighters go to more fires or emergencies than volunteer firefighters. In order for full-time firefighters to respond to a fire, the fire has to happen during their shifts, in their station’s response area and the apparatus to which they’re assigned must be needed at the scene. In the volunteer world, if your regular full-time work is in your community and you can respond – as most of our firefighters can – then you are on call 24/7.

Maybe it’s just a cost issue and the powers that be thought about it enough to exclude volunteer firefighters. In other words, they knew exactly what they were doing when they took the volunteers out of the bill. This bill will cost a lot of money and I’m very glad to see the full-time fighters and their families finally being recognized for the dangerous work that firefighters do. The OPFFA did a great job and should be commended for the way it looks after its membership.

The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs has also been working hard to get these benefits for volunteer firefighters. It has met with several provincial ministers and their aides several times, conducted surveys and much more. The OAFC should also be commended for its hard work. I, too, spoke with a Ministry of Labour official and was told this is an easy fix. I was told the ministry plans to include the volunteers in Bill 221. So, I said, great. When? No answer. I asked again if the volunteers would be included this year. Still no answer. How about in two or three years? I asked, at which time the official stood up and walked away.   

So, in the end, this is about money. The families of full-time firefighters will receive benefits and the volunteer firefighter who worked beside the full-time firefighter for many years and was paid much less will receive no benefits. 

Like I’ve said in many of my columns, it’s getting very hard to manage a volunteer department when so many people really don’t want it to work.


Brad Patton is fire chief for the Centre Wellington Volunteer Fire Rescue Department in Ontario, one of the largest volunteer departments in the province, with stations in Fergus and Elora.


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