Rocky View opposed to changes to firefighter work regulations
Rocky View County plans to fight changes to the employment standards regulations for firefighters, approved by the Province on June 21.
The amendments, which will come into effect Sept. 1 pending approval by individual municipalities, allow for 24-hour shifts and makes changes to overtime laws.
The changes prohibit shifts from being scheduled in the 24-hour period immediately following completion of a 24-hour shift, meaning full-time, paid firefighters will work a maximum of two shifts per week before being paid overtime.
Previously, firefighters were able to work 12-hour shifts, which could be scheduled each day. Longer shifts required a special permit.
“This is a huge move backward in employment standards,” said Rocky View Councillor Greg Boehlke.
“This is a huge loss for every entity that employs firefighters in the province.”
Boehlke said the changes will decrease availability of firefighters, and that working 24-hour shifts poses a safety risk.
“Studies have shown that for every hour you work over an eight-hour shift, your capacities are impaired,” he said. “There is no way anyone can function after working for 24-hours straight. I am surprised that the provincial government would do this when studies have come out strongly against it. They know full well that it’s a safety issue above all else.”
According to Rocky View Fire Chief Ken McMullen, council has the final say whether or not to adopt the changes.
“Council will make the decision to contest or follow this. Whatever the County agrees to, we’ll follow,” he said. “We will work with our department and with council to make sure people are competent to do the job.”
Boehlke said council would only allow the changes if forced to do so by the Province.
“Council has made a strong stand against it. We don’t want to allow 24-hour shifts,” he said.
“If we get ordered that we have to allow 24-hour shifts, then we have no choice, but we will resist as hard as we can for as long as we can. Hopefully the government will come to their senses and repeal this. It’s absolutely foolish.”
In a letter to County Manager Rob Coon, Human Services Minister Doug Hancock said the ministry consulted with firefighters and municipalities across the province to determine the best option, noting that several communities currently already use 24-hour shifts.
“The amendments reflect current industry practice in the firefighting community,” stated the letter.
“For most fire services, the amendments will not lead to any significant operational changes.”
Hancock said fairness and safety were the primary focus, and the ministry will continue to monitor the use of long shifts and study their effects on employee safety.
“We have assessed the information available and listened carefully to the concerns raised by stakeholders with respect to the use of long shifts,” penned Hancock.
“The regulation amendments are intended to establish reasonable standards for firefighters around hours of work and overtime, and ensure appropriate rest periods are available for those who work long shifts.
“We believe the mandatory rest provisions will provide firefighters with the rest they need following long shifts.”
McMullen said his main issue is how the changes will impact availability, especially when it comes to training.
“The reality is that with a composite department, 24-hour shifts make it more problematic to operate,” said McMullen.
“To have people come to work on a regular basis is important. Everything that we do in terms of training now can’t happen on a continuous basis.
“It puts more constraint on how we train and changes the balance of availability.”
In order to run a 40-hour training course, McMullen said Rocky View County Fire Services will have to flip shifts and change training officers’ hours to train at night.
“It’s not impossible, just more difficult,” he said. “We will have to find more creative ways to have those people trained.”