Harris demands fairness for firefighters volunteering in townshipsMarch 3, 2014
KITCHENER – The government must take immediate action to address a long-standing gap in Ontario’s laws that could leave full-time firefighters suffering from cancer with a major shortfall in benefits just because they volunteer their services in another community, Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris said today.
“Full-time firefighters in Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo play a critical role throughout our region by volunteering at fire halls in surrounding rural municipalities. The townships in my riding of Kitchener-Conestoga rely on these brave men and women for their expertise, training and leadership,” Harris said. “Now, this working relationship has been thrown into jeopardy because of a gap in Ontario’s laws that could lead to a dramatic drop in compensation for firefighters who develop cancer.”
Full-time and volunteer firefighters are guaranteed compensation under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act for certain cancers that are presumed to be occupational diseases. However, benefits are much lower for volunteers than for full-time firefighters, which is the source of the problem.
Under the WSIA, there are no specific rules for “double-hatters” – a term that refers to firefighters who concurrently work full-time for a municipality and volunteer for another. To fill this legal gap, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has used a rigid interpretation of Section 94 in the Act, which states that if a presumptive cancer claim is made, the last employer is responsible. For example, if a firefighter leaves his job in Kitchener, starts work in Toronto, then develops a presumptive cancer, Toronto would be responsible for the claim because that would be the last place he has worked.
The WSIB recently applied this legal interpretation to a case involving a double-hatter in Waterloo Region who was diagnosed with a presumptive cancer. By using this section, the board determined that the municipality where the firefighter had fought his last fire must assume responsibility for the claim despite different levels of compensation.
“That means double-hatters could see their benefits drop down to the level of a volunteer just because they last responded to a fire in one of the townships,” Harris said. “That’s a major gamble that many full-time fighters don’t want to take, and there have already been reports that many double-hatters have stopped volunteering,” Harris said. “This situation presents a serious safety risk for our rural communities, so I am calling on the government to take immediate action to fix the law before rural fire departments in Wilmot, Wellesley and Woolwich lose the essential service double-hatters provide.”