Minto fire chief: province’s proposed firefighter training regulations could prove costly

Minto fire chief: province’s proposed firefighter training regulations could prove costly
By Patrick Raftis
Wellington Observer
Link to article: Minto fire chief: province’s proposed firefighter training regulations could prove costly

The town’s fire chief says the province is proposing new regulations that will make becoming a firefighter “more challenging” and will result in increased training and other costs to municipalities.

In a report to Minto council at the Feb. 20 meeting, Fire Chief Chris Harrow explained the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has been reviewing the Fire Protection and Prevention Act (FPPA) since January of 2017, with a mandate to modernize fire service delivery.

Draft regulations produced through consultation with a variety of stakeholders focus on two particular areas: the need for community risk assessments and mandatory training requirements, Harrow explained.

He said the draft regulations represent “a drastic change” in fire service operations, specifically mandatory training and certification regulations.

If the regulation is approved firefighters in Ontario will have to be certified to a specific standard adopted by the province.

The draft regulations outline the need for firefighters performing specific duties to be certified. For example, a firefighter running a pumper truck at a scene needs to be certified in pumper operations.

As well, future members of specialty rescue teams, such as water and confined space teams, will need to be certified to National Fire Protection Association standards.

“The idea of mandatory certification is a good idea provided there is a standard for firefighters to be trained to and a mechanism in place to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. However, there is going to be a great deal of demand placed on new firefighters coming into the service,” Harrow states in his report.

“As a volunteer department, Minto Fire does not have the luxury of specialists dedicated to one area. Firefighters perform a variety of roles (firefighters, pump operators, public educators, trainers, etc). The new regulations will require them to obtain certifications in each area they are involved in.”

Firefighters hired before Jan. 1, 2019 are exempt from the new regulations.

“However, the question is, does a firefighter looking to upgrade their position in the fire service need to obtain the relevant certification first? This will require Minto Fire to ensure we have a vibrant succession plan in place for all positions,” the report states. “All new recruits in the future will face a challenging road to becoming a firefighter.

“Candidates may shy away from applying because of the requirements to take exams and skill testing.”

The report notes the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) has created a position paper outlining concerns with liability on municipalities if they do not certify all of their firefighters, even those who have been grandfathered.

“If municipal fire services do not make sure that everyone is certified to the new mandatory standard for all categories of fire operations, there remains a great liability risk if anything unfortunate occurs,” the position paper states.

Harrow said AMO wants  the province to extend indemnification to municipalities for fire department functions, a position supported by town and fire service staff.

Harrow told council while he has no problem supporting the AMO position, “We’ve grandfathered before in the fire service and there’s been no issues with it.”

Harrow explained that until now, there have been no uniform training standards for fire services in Ontario.

“There’s no doubt that there needs to be some regulation on training. Up to this point there’s been no regulation on training … it’s up to each individual municipality to decide what level of training they want to train their firefighters to.”

Harrow continued, “The bulk of this I have no issues with. I think it is a good thing to certify fighters and make sure they know what they’re doing.

“The bridge that were going to have to cross with our people is that they’re going to have to get used to writing some tests because they’re going to have to become certified and write tests and pass exams. So it’s going to make our recruitment in the future a little bit more difficult.”

However, the chief pointed out the town’s last two groups of fire recruits have been given the option to write the certification tests after completing training.

“And every single one of them has done it ... which was a pleasant surprise to me,” he said.

While noting it is too early to calculate costs associated with the proposed regulations, Harrow suggested there will likely be an increase in training costs in the future if the regulations come into effect as written.

He also noted, “Our training records are becoming even more vitally important ... So once you’re certified that’s great, but we have to continue to prove that they’re certified to that level.

Council accepted the fire chief’s report regarding new proposed FFPA regulations and agreed to indicate to the province the municipality’s support for AMO’s position.

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