The city of Niagara Falls voted to support double-hat firefighters at council on Tuesday, moving a recommendation to ask the Ontario government to step in and ensure firefighters are allowed to volunteer throughout the province.
The move comes following a recommendation from the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, which encourages all communities in the Niagara Region to support double-hat firefighters in legal disputes with the International Firefighters Association.
Double-hat firefighters are professional firefighters who are also volunteer firefighters in their home communities. The IFA says that’s a conflict of interest and is seeking legal action against some firefighters.
In September, the town of NOTL donated $2,000 to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, which said it would help protect those firefighters.
The town put forth a challenge that “all communities in the Niagara Region where volunteer firefighters are important” meet or exceed the $2,000 donation.
Niagara Falls council decided to seek help from the province instead.
“I’m just wondering why we have to deal with this,” Coun. Wayne Thomson said to council.
“Is this not something that the provincial government cannot step in and provide legislation that says (volunteering) is completely acceptable, and the way these volunteers are being treated is unacceptable?”
City Solicitor Ken Beaman said the answer was yes, the province could, but “obviously they haven’t.”
“They’ve been able to for years, but it’s a hot potato. They don’t want to touch it,” Beaman said.
“Can you imagine what would happen to the city of Niagara Falls if tomorrow we lost all our volunteer firemen?” Thomson asked council.
He said he once asked the “former fire chief” the same question he was told it would cost the city $6 million per year.
Mayor Jim Diodati echoed the statements in an interview on Wednesday.
“We’ve got three real, viable volunteer stations in the city, and we’ve got a really great relationship between our volunteers and our regular firefighters, and we’d like to see that survive and thrive.”
He said he thinks it makes “perfect common sense that firefighters should be able to do they want in their free time, and certainly not limited to volunteering in their communities.”
Diodati said it’s a situation we should never be having to discuss.
“Firefighters should be allowed to volunteer wherever, whenever.”
He said if need be, the city would be monetarily supportive as well.