Harris calls on government to address firefighter resignationsMarch 5, 2014
QUEEN’S PARK – The Liberal government must take immediate steps to address a gap in provincial legislation that’s forcing firefighters to walk away from their volunteer positions in the townships out of fear that their full-time benefits could be slashed if they develop cancer, Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris said today.
“The lack of clarity in provincial legislation has created a serious public-safety issue in the Region of Waterloo that could soon spread to other parts of the province if substantive action isn’t taken soon,” Harris said. “That’s why I called on the Minister of Community Safety in question period today to immediately address this serious issue for rural communities in my riding and across the province.”
Under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, full-time and volunteer firefighters are guaranteed compensation for certain cancers that are presumed to be occupational illnesses. However, benefits are much lower for volunteers than for full-time firefighters.
Unfortunately, the Act does not include any 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 stated that a double-hatter’s last employer should be responsible for compensation.
“The trouble with this rule is that double-hatters could lose their full-time benefits just because they’ve last fought a fire as a volunteer in a different community,” Harris said. “The overall reduction in benefits could be as much as half in many cases.”
In response to this uncertainty, two firefighters have already tendered their resignations at the Wellesley Fire Department and the Waterloo fire association is now advising its members not to volunteer in the townships.
“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 expertise, training and leadership that double-hatters provide.”