County concerned about new firefighter regs
Sean ChaseéDaily Observer Established in 1861, the County of Renfrew is made up of 17 lower tier municipalities.
Proposed changes to legislation under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act has Renfrew County councillors concerned about the drastic effects they will have on lower tier fire departments.
The Ontario Fire Marshal and Emergency Management announced the proposed changes in January. The legislation, coming from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, calls for full certification of volunteer firefighters to a new provincially-approved standard based on requirements set out by the National Fire Protection Association.
“It's certainly going to have an impact on the volunteer departments,” said Laurentian Hills Mayor John Reinwald during council's regular session on Wednesday. “It's not going to be good for the smaller municipalities.”
Fire chiefs across the county are concerned about the cost and time of training to the new standard, which includes many skills not required by the expectations of small rural fire services. The regulations would mandate about 200 hours of training for an entry level firefighter and an additional 200 hours for a level-two firefighter. This would mean that a volunteer would have to take vacation time to attend courses in Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst.
If the act is changed, existing firefighters that are currently employed must be certified regardless of date of hire for the disciplines of fire inspector, fire investigator, fire instructor, hazardous materials personnel and dispatcher since these roles come with increased risk and responsibility. Any firefighter hired after Jan. 1, 2019 would have to receive mandatory certification as a suppression firefighter, a pump operator and a technical rescuer.
In Ontario, there are 448 fire departments, however, only 32 are full-time, which include departments in Pembroke, Renfrew and Deep River. The public consultation period ends on March 11 giving local departments and municipal leaders a small window to voice their concerns.
“Our municipalities cannot afford to send its firefighters to Gravenhurst for certification,” said Warden Jennifer Murphy, mayor of Bonnechere Valley. “This model just does not work for rural Ontario.”
County fire chiefs have also voiced concern that this could affect recruitment and retention. Departments could also find themselves undermanned because of the changes. Murphy said the Renfrew County Fire Chiefs' Association have a solution in using Algonquin College to run certification courses, however, mandatory certification would still pose problems.