'It's long overdue': Local fire chiefs applauding increased protection for two-hatter firefighters

'It's long overdue': Local fire chiefs applauding increased protection for two-hatter firefighters
SouthWesternOntario.ca

NORTHERN WELLINGTON COUNTY — Two local fire chiefs are applauding the proposed amendments to the Fire Protection and Prevention Act that, if accepted, will protect two-hatter firefighters across the province from discipline from their unions.

The term "two-hatters" or "double-hatters" refers to full-time firefighters who also work part-time for another department, usually in their home community.
 
Two-hatting is forbidden under the International Association of Fire Fighters union constitution and has resulted in two-hatters facing fines and threats of losing their full-time jobs.
 
The proposed amendments, introduced as part of the 2018 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review (Bill 57), would protect professional firefighters from being penalized as a result of double-hatting and would take pressure off municipalities expected to dismiss them.
 
"Our proposed reforms to finally protect 'double-hatters' will promote public safety and allow firefighters to choose how they volunteer, in their free time," Minister of Labour Laurie Scott said in a news release.
 
As well, the amendments promise to improve the current interest arbitration system, known to lead to delays and inefficiencies, by requiring arbitrators to consider other settlements reached with employees in the same municipality, as well as various economic criteria affecting that specific area.
 
The changes would also allow municipalities or firefighters' associations to request explanations in writing from the arbitrator and introduce one-person arbitration panels.
 
Town of Minto Fire Chief Chris Harrow told Metroland Media that this announcement is good for all volunteer fire departments in the province.
 
"It's definitely a good thing for all volunteer fire departments. It gives protection to the guys that are full-time and want to volunteer their time at their local fire department," he said. "They can now do so without getting reprimanded by their union."
 
Wellington North Fire Chief Dave Guilbault, who has long been a champion for protecting the rights of "double hatters," was able to meet one-on-one with Minister Scott on Nov. 21 at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs annual general meeting about this subject. He said he is very pleased to hear this announcement.
 
"I'm ecstatic about it. It's long overdue," he said. "It allows career firefighters to be in their community as volunteer firefighters without harassment, bullying and threats. They can help protect their homes, their businesses and their community."
 
Minto currently has one two-hatter on its roster, while Wellington North has four.
 
Harrow said that Minto has had volunteer firefighters become certified and go on to get full-time jobs in larger centres in the past, and feels that these amendments, if approved, will encourage some of those firefighters to keep volunteering.
 
"For our firefighters that do get on (full-time in the city), they would be more willing to stay on here. I think that's the benefit for us here," said Harrow. "It's going to help volunteer firefighters across the province recruit and retain their members."
 
Guilbault thinks this will help with his department's recruitment efforts.
 
"There might be other career firefighters out there in our community that want to help out but haven't put their name forward for fear of reprisals, threats and bullying," he said. "There might be an opportunity for an experienced firefighter who lives in our community to join our team and give back."
 
While the amendments are not yet passed in the Ontario legislature, Guilbault is glad to see that this issue is finally being tackled after more than a decade of debate.
 
"Kudos to Minister of Labour Laurie Scott, MPP Ted Arnott and the premier for saying, 'let's get this done.' I'm very confident that this is going to go through," said Guilbault.
 
"I'm glad it's coming to an end."