Rural Firefighters’ Change In Status Will Entitle Them To Benefits, Pension

When the bell tower at St. Philip Catholic Church in Richmond was on fire, the volunteer firefighters at the Richmond Fire Station were on the scene just three minutes after the 9-1-1 call was placed.

They did an outstanding job in containing the fire, preventing it from spreading to the rest of the church and minimizing damage.

The timing of the Richmond church fire was coincidental to the discussions going on at City Council. Rural firefighters were at the forefront as City Council voted to change their employee status from volunteer to casual part time.

The move was first discussed at the Emergency Preparedness and Protective Services Committee. After passing there, the motion to change the status of rural firefighters was passed.

Although they were considered volunteers, firefighters at rural village fire stations such as Manotick, Richmond and Osgoode went through the same training and testing, and wear the same uniforms, as their suburban and urban counterparts, who are considered full-time employees.

The change in status, which will cost the city close to a half million dollars, will make the volunteer firefighters eligible for the pension plan and will also entitle them to vacation time and benefits.

Ottawa Fire Services’ rural firefighters are responsible for fire suppression, fire rescue, tiered medical response, water and ice rescue, auto extrication, wildland fires and incident management services. Emergency situations, such as floods, severe wind, extreme heat and cold events, and wildfires responses require skilled firefighter personnel. Ottawa’s rural firefighters are well trained and have the most current equipment and apparatus at their disposal to ensure the best chance of a positive outcome during any situation.

Rural operations firefighters represent 40 per cent of OFS resources and provide service to 80 per cent of Ottawa landmass in partnership with urban operations. The rural division is comprised of almost 500 rural firefighters and includes 16 rural and four composite fire stations. Rural firefighters include officers, lieutenants, captains, auxiliary personnel, and firefighters.

Rural firefighters are comparable to City of Ottawa employees in many aspects. They are paid hourly rates and receive economic increases. They wear an Ottawa Fire Services uniform that is indistinguishable from career firefighters. Both rural and urban firefighter recruits must pass the same physical testing as part of the qualifications. The City of Ottawa maintains ground insurance coverage for accident and sickness. This will not change as a result of the recommendations. There are annual performance reviews and in cases of promotions, they are assessed on the basis or attendance standards. They are subject to all City of Ottawa policies including discipline in accordance with the City’s disciplinary policy. The policies and procedures of OttawaFire Services also incorporate references to resigning, retiring, or termination.

Currently rural firefighters are not designated as employees. The City of Ottawa classifies rural firefighters as volunteers. The City has other volunteer positions which are unpaid and do not require an equivalent level of qualification as compared to rural firefighters. Rural firefighters in Ottawa Fire Services are National Fire Protection Association trained and certified to the same standard as urban firefighters. Relevant legislation defining volunteer firefighters include the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, the Ontario Labour Relations Act, 1995, and the Employment Standards Act.

Rural firefighters deliver city-wide fire education and prevention programs like the Wake up! Get a Working Smoke Alarm program door to door, the Fire Smart program, and the After the Fire program. They provide a critical front-line, emergency response services to residents, businesses, and visitors to protect loss of life, property, and the environment with an emphasis on quality services, efficiency, effectiveness, and safety.

Featured Image: Richmond firefighters battled a blaze at St. Philip Catholic Church in Richmond on Valentine’s Night. (Erika Gow photo)