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Full-time firefighters are not trying to force volunteer members out, says the president of the Charlottetown Professional Firefighters Association.
Spencer Waite is speaking out in response to an email that has been circulating publicly that hard feelings have been starting to brew between paid staff and the volunteers — and that the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) is anti-volunteer.
The Charlottetown union, which represents career firefighters at the two city stations, joined IAFF last year and became IAFF Local 5219. It has been pushing for more full-time firefighters.
The email, which was circulated anonymously, stated that the objective of the union is to burn out volunteers. It pointed out that volunteers have been responding to more calls, risking burn out, and accusing the union of using that as a bargaining tactic to put more pressure on the city to give the union a new contract and hire more career members.
“With an average of 350 calls (per year), mostly nuisance alarms, the volunteers are starting to feel the pressure,’’ the email states. “Volunteers are required to attend 70 per cent of all district dispatches. These are referred to as 'averages’. Volunteer averages are dropping, which will trigger warning letters, reduction of volunteer honorariums, possible suspension or termination. Who wants to volunteer in that sort of environment?’’
Waite said Charlottetown career firefighters have indeed affiliated with the IAFF but he says there is no truth to the claim this has changed the historic relationship between the volunteers and the career firefighters.
“The notion that the IAFF is directing us to change the historic relationship with the volunteers is absolutely false,’’ he said. “It is important to remember that 95 per cent of our members came through the volunteer ranks.’’
Waite has been vocal since Charlottetown members joined the IAFF that more career firefighters are needed in the capital city, especially with a third fire station on the horizon.
However, he said the IAFF has also provided the city with additional resources, through IAFF-sponsored Hazmat training, to cite one example, and peer support. The Hazmat training that is scheduled is being extended and offered to volunteer members.
Waite added that several month ago, the union asked the city to work with them to negotiate and resolve the issue of being on-call without pay, which the email addresses, because it was a breach of the contract.
“At this point, management has not reached out to us on this matter.’’
The Guardian spoke to one volunteer member who asked that his name not be used because he isn’t authorized to speak.
He said due to his day job he can’t afford to be responding to the numerous false alarms that come in and if that continues to be a problem he may have to reconsider volunteering.
Waite said the need for additional career firefighters has been identified in various reports but the union doesn’t want it to come at the expense of losing volunteers.
“The use of volunteers is part of the response protocol of the city and is currently required to ensure public safety,’’ Waite said. “We hold the public safety as a sacred trust and we will never support policies or procedures that would undermine that.’’
Following are some facts about the Charlottetown Fire Department
- The Charlottetown Professional Firefighters Association is now affiliated with the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and is referred to as IAFF Local 5219
- IAFF Local 5219 represents the fire chief, deputy fire chief, fire prevention officer, fire inspectors, eight career firefighters and the department chaplain
- There are 37 volunteers listed at Station 1 on Kent Street
- There are 39 volunteers listed at Station 2 in Sherwood
Source: Based on information available on City of Charlottetown's website