On November 5th the Ontario Ministry of Labour announced that volunteer and part time firefighters who suffer fire-related illnesses will qualify for benefits under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, the same way full-time or career firefighters are presently covered. This coverage has also been extended to fire investigators who work for the Office of the Fire Marshall. The province has established a new regulation which presumes that eight types of cancer as well as heart injuries that occur within 24 hours of fighting a fire or a training exercise will now be considered work related, unless proven otherwise.
In May 2007 the McGuinty government announced an amendment to the WSIB Act which extended this coverage to the 11,000 “professional” or full-time firefighters of Ontario, however at the time over 19,000 volunteer or part-time firefighters were excluded from this amendment. Needless to say the decision to exclude volunteer firefighters was seen as an insult to many, nor did it make any sense, especially when the job description for both groups is virtually identical. Unfortunately volunteer firefighters don’t have a union to lobby politicians for our cause, we do however have communities that support us. In our case we would like to extend our gratitude to the members of our municipal council and mayor Hill for supporting this cause and standing up for the firefighters of Russell and Embrun, your support is truly appreciated.
In August 2008 firefighter Wayne Harris of the Midland Fire Department lost his battle with cancer, should Wayne had been a full-time firefighter his family would have been eligible for WSIB benefits as Wayne’s cancer was a clear result of his work as a firefighter. To date the Harris family has received $75,000.00 from a volunteer firefighters association to help them get back on their feet, Nancy’s applications for WSIB benefits so far have been denied. Again this is strictly due to Wayne’s position as a “volunteer” as opposed to full time. According to Richard Boyes, president of the Association of Fire Chiefs of Ontario; the volunteer firefighters of Ontario are a $1 Billion dollar a year asset to the province, in other words without the volunteer forces, communities would be on the hook for at least that amount. Considering the contribution, adding insurance coverage doesn’t seem like such a bad investment. Volunteer firefighters take on the same risks as full time firefighters, however their reasons for taking on the job are not financial. Ask most volunteer firefighters why they do it and the standard answer is that they want to give back to their community, fortunately it now seems that the province is recognizing this commitment. Let’s hope that this will also end up making things right for the Harris family of Midland Ontario.