MANITOULIN—Several Island municipal and fire department representatives say that local fire departments and municipalities are going to be severely affected in the future, especially in terms of recruiting new volunteer firefighters with proposed new provincial regulations (Fire Protection and Prevention Act 1997) that call for the mandatory fire fighter certification and community risk assessments.
“They’ve tried to soften the regulations by extending the time that firefighter certification needs to take place by July 1, 2019, but it will still be a burden,” said Mike Addison, Gore Bay Fire Chief. “Firefighters who are now members of fire departments will be grandfathered in so they will be exempt from the mandatory certification. But when trying to recruit new firefighters it will mean a higher commitment on the part of volunteer firefighters. There may need to be some type of incentives put in place, to provide them for putting in the extra time they have to put in through all of this training.”
“There is no cure for stupid,” stated Burpee Mills Reeve Ken Noland. “They have no idea the challenges that small, rural Northern Ontario communities face with trying retain and recruit volunteer firefighters. What about the public consultation that was to take place on these regulations? What a joke. The only thing they (province) did was change a couple of implementation dates, so that it may not kill volunteer fire departments now, but could in the future.”
“The province can spout this is being done to increase safety, but I’d like to know how many volunteer firefighters submitted an injury claim last year,” said Mr. Noland. “How many volunteer firefighters have been hurt? I would guess very, very few if any. There isn’t a safety problem.”
Mr. Noland said it may have to come down to “municipalities determine the risks and need and level of service they need in their community. After all these volunteer firefighters are there to protect their neighbours and the community. As fellow members of the community, no one wants to see anyone get hurt and the general public wants volunteer fire departments in place in their community.”
“These are small volunteer fire departments who are there to protect their community and neighbours,” said Mr. Noland. “Maybe we need to go back 70 years when municipalities just had fire equipment and when a fire occurred everyone would help out their neighbours and fire departments weren’t municipally run.”
Gore Bay council also voiced concerns on the issue at a council meeting last week. “We have received information concerning the new fire regulations proposed and this relates to concerns we raised at our previous meeting as well,” said Mayor Ron Lane. “It sounds as if the province has heard the message from volunteer fire departments and municipalities in that they grandfathered current firefighters in until July, 2019. But I don’t know if this will all help.”
Councillor Jack Clark said, “generally speaking this seems to be more positive. But as you read more, there are still a lot of concerns to be raised.”
”The main issues are going to go away on a temporary basis,” said Mr. Clark. “We are okay now with all firefighters being grandfathered in and not having to go through the fire training toward certification. But after this group of firefighters, when new firefighters come on, they will have to go through the certification and things will not be as rosy.”
“There is also a risk assessment that all municipalities have to go through,” said Mr. Clark. “This (risk assessment) is more detailed than the current one in place and in the end it may have some impact on liability insurance.”
Mac Bain of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) told the Recorder “the regulations were passed on the Tuesday, before the writ for the provincial election was carried out. What it means is that volunteer firefighters will have to go through the same mandatory certification as full-time firefighters. One of the challenges will be whether the volunteers have the time and the funds to go to fire college to get trained.”
Mr. Bain said, “this issue is a real concern. Even having current firefighters grandfathered in, it could mean in the end some municipalities will see their fire departments closed down in the future. There will definitely be some impact to small, rural municipalities.”
Mr. Addison said “I know the government made some concessions in the legislation. Instead of this being implemented on January 1, 2019 it has been pushed back to July 1, 2019. Any current firefighter would be grandfathered in. But if anyone starts July 1, 2019, they have to have been enrolled in a program two years to complete the certification.
Mr. Addison said, “overall the new regulations are good and fire departments are going to be better because of it. But it is hard to attract new volunteer firefighters and this could make it tougher.”
“There are going to be repercussions on small rural municipal fire departments with all of this,” added Mr. Noland.