Ontario introduces reforms to protect full-time firefighters who ‘double-hat’ as volunteers

Click to play video: 'Bill 57 to protect double hatters' Bill 57 to protect double hatters
Firefighters who work professionally in urban centres and volunteer in the smaller communities they live in are called "double hatters". Bill 57 will protect them from facing backlash from their unions for volunteering – Nov 29, 2018

The Ontario government is introducing reforms to protect full-time firefighters who also serve as volunteer firefighters.

Provincial Labour Minister Laurie Scott says the “double-hatters” often risked fines or dismissal if they chose to serve as volunteers. The MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock says new reforms for Bill 57 included in last week’s Fall Economic Statement aim to eliminate the “unfair penalties.”

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“Professional firefighters don’t deserve to be persecuted for volunteering, nor should they fear being a local hero,” Scott tweeted on Tuesday. “I’ve fought for this for 15 years, and now our government is restoring fairness in the firefighting industry.”

Under the reforms, unions will no longer be able to discipline double-hatters.

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“Local fire departments and municipalities in our riding have been asking for protection for double-hatters for a long time, and I’ve been personally advocating on this issue for over 15 years,” Scott said. “As Minister of Labour, I’m thrilled to finally have the opportunity to protect these heroes from unfair punishment and empower them to serve their communities and save lives.”

Scott addressed the issue at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference and received support from fire departments and chiefs from across the province.

Stephen Hernen, president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC), said the reforms will provide protection for firefighters and residents.

“We commend the Ford government for acting on these long-standing issues and look forward to continuing to work together, protecting our firefighters and ultimately keeping Ontario’s residents safe,” he said.

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Firefighters in Scott’s riding praised the reforms.

“I support Minister Scott’s legislation to protect the freedom of full-time firefighters to volunteer without the fear of fines or job loss,” said City of Kawartha Lakes fire Chief Mark Pankhurst. ” Allowing double-hatters will strengthen fire departments across Ontario and reinforce public safety in our community. This is a long overdue change that will benefit the City of Kawartha Lakes.”

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“We have several double-hatters in the Kawartha Lakes, and I’d like to thank our Kawartha Lakes Professional Firefighters and double-hatters for always maintaining a respectful working relationship,” he added.

Cavan Monaghan Township fire Chief Bill Balfour echoed that sentiment.

“The Township of Cavan Monaghan has lost several volunteer firefighters due to the restrictions on double-hatting,” he said. “Minister Scott’s action to protect the right of professional firefighters to volunteer will directly benefit small community fire departments like ours.”

Scott met with several Haliburton County fire chiefs on Saturday who also welcomed the reforms.

“Full-time firefighters should be able to service their community as volunteers, and we welcome the government’s policy change, making it easier to volunteer in smaller communities and finally putting this issue to rest,” said Minden Hills fire Chief Mike Bekking. “I feel volunteers should be thanked for their service, not punished.”

Algonquin Highlands fire Chief Mike Cavanagh added: “I welcome the changes that Minister Scott has made to the Fire Protection and Prevention Act. Double-hatters and interest arbitration have been issues since I entered the fire service, and I’m pleased to finally see these much-needed changes made. Allowing full-time firefighters to volunteer is a common-sense move that will benefit rural fire departments.”

Following Scott’s speech at the OAFC annual general meeting on Nov. 21, she was named an honorary fire chief for her long-standing advocacy on the double-hatting file.


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