Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fighting for Pelham’s Fire Fighters

It’s a date and a fire that is scorched in the hearts and minds of many members of Pelham’s Fire Service – November 8, 2004.

That’s the date of the devastating and tragic fire that claimed the lives of Monika Woerlen, 39, and her seven children Susanna Ruth, 11, Elena Jane, 10, Marcus Simon, 8, Samuel Benjamin, 7, Paul Anthony, 5, Nathan Matthew, 3, and 18-month-old Debora Lynne.

As you may recall from the tragedy, it was Pelham’s firefighters from Station #2 in Fenwick that were called to the West Lincoln fire, fought the blaze, and participated in the complex investigation. You may also recall that that fire is considered the worst fire involving children in Ontario’s history.

Why am I recounting that horrible tragedy?

I want to make the same point that Town Councillor Jim Lane, Town CAO Martin Yamich, and I made to the Honourable Peter Fonseca, Minister of Labour, at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa last week.

You see, the point is that part-time firefighters – like Pelham’s 105 dedicated volunteers – face the same perils as their full-time counterparts. They provide the same protection at a fraction of the cost. Part-time firefighters require the same initial training and annual certification as full-time firefighters. In today’s fire service across the Region, full-time and part-time often firefighters work side by side on “mutual aid” calls. Indeed, part-time firefighters are the backbone to the Ontario Fire Service.

Yet, under current Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) rules “Volunteer and Part-time Firefighters” are not covered like their full-time counterparts are for job related cancer or if the firefighter sustains a heart injury.

Often referred to as presumptive rules, the Government extended WSIB coverage automatically to full-time firefighters in May of 2007. But, since that time, they have not covered part-time firefighters in the same way.

We informed the Minister that Town Council had recently supported and endorsed the call to extend the same presumptive WSIB coverage to part-time firefighters.

The Minister indicated that the he is still consulting with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Ontario Fire Chief, and the Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office to finalize the regulations related to part-time firefighters. While the Minister was unable to give a timeline to complete the consultations, he did indicate that it was a priority and that he had meetings immediately following AMO.

We asked that Pelham’s position form part of his consultations and that he keeps us informed.