Isolation, working from home, lay-offs, increased risks, potential for drastic measures...
In this sea of uncertainty, one thing is certain; Ontario's Fire Fighters will be there to answer the call. It is important however that we have a labour and management relationship to permit discussion and understanding of the needs of all parties, the workers, the public and the employer. There is just too much going on to ignore it.
Over the past weeks, I have had the opportunity to hear many stories of sound labour/management discussions on meaningful issues to our fire service members. I want to use this space to provide you with ideas for discussion and possible solutions, all in place to protect Ontario's fire service professionals so we can continue to provide outstanding service to the public. Thank you to many and please, if you notice items that should be included here, please email me at [email protected]
Items that should be discussed between labour and management, and some potential outcomes to maintain safe service delivery.
Recording of all Costs for Reimbursement
- There have been billions of dollars committed to the COVID-19 pandemic
- Your local and your municipality should be keeping a record of account for ALL costs associated with COVID-19
- There most certainly will be avenues to recuperate costs in the future
Sick Time and Self Isolation
- Mandated self isolation both protects fire staff from illness, in turn protecting the public when we respond as a healthy force to their emergencies.
- Sick time for self isolation on one account should NOT be used in any attendance management program so employees do not fear utilizing self isolation
- All locals should strive to have any isolation time covered without the need to use sick days/credits etc.
- Again, any municipality documenting this cost could see the cost recovered in the future
- Many fire departments have now taken the position not to charge sick time to the employee for these absences
Mandating Self Screening and Entry controls
- Please see the section on Self Screening. Again, doing our best to keep COVID out of fire workplaces will maintain the safest working and operating conditions.
- Your local and management may wish to enter agreements to set joint policy to address self screening and the control of entry into workplaces of only those who are symptom free.
Guests to Stations, Communications Centre/Truck Visits
- STATIONS CLOSED!
- We love to educate the public and share safety information and what we do, but we need to press the pause button.
- To reduce the exposure of employees to others and vice-versa, barring guests from FD workplaces will serve to be advantageous to individuals and the fire department function
- Truck visits and other ancillary operations should be temporarily curtailed during COVID-19
- Effective fire station and workplace lockdowns may have to occur.
- Agreement on the parameters around these operational changes will benefit both parties and the public
Changes to Service Delivery
- ALL Locals should know that this is not a time for anyone to propose changes or reductions to response protocols or Tiered Response Agreements of services provided to the public.
- More than ever we need to be servicing the 'usual' medical calls and response, COVID-19 is an additional layer on top.
- The public should be aware that Fire will screen the public at a call to determine the proper safety precautions to take before taking action.
- The public can remain confident that our response and staffing, with or prior to paramedics, enables scene management and treatment of family members (not just the victim) all of which has a very positive impact and outcome.
- IF ANYTHING, your local may discuss temporary response protocol changes to address the current strains due to the pandemic
- We will do our part to educate the public on screening and how important honest answers are to safe service delivery
Occupational Health and Safety Committees
- Many locals are calling for regular weekly (or 2x per week) Joint Occupational Health and Safety meetings (or sub committees of their JOHSC's to address pandemic concerns.
- Items such as self screening, PPE, protocols etc. are changing and dynamic. Having all parties on side and appropriate regular communications will ease the stress and provide a regular venue to solve issues as they arise.
Behavioural Health and Support
- This is a stressful time, and for many this can be compounded with children out of school, partners laid-off, uncertainty of health of loved ones and a host of other life issues. This applies to our fire professionals and the public.
- Locals should ensure members are aware of their Employee Assistance Plans, Behavioural wellness tips, peer support or just a reminder that a hand is close by.
- Ontario Fire Fighters have provided a resource link to Ontario 2-1-1 providing valuable information to the public and our membership.
- Everyone should take time to step away from the stress of COVID-19 from time to time to try to relax and focus on positive plans and calming activity on a regular basis.
- Stress is normal in the situation, but there are techniques, and there is help so that the stress does not always get the best of you.
Work from Home Opportunities
- For many of our fire service professionals their work is not emergency and time critical and a large percentage of their work can be performed remotely for a period of time.
- Locals should work to ensure the employer provides this option and, as-much-as-possible, keeps business moving forward in the areas of training and inspection and enforcement and other tasks your department may be involved in.
Composite Fire Departments
- For many OPFFA locals, their response and response to rural areas rely on the support of a volunteer fire fighter component.
- Your locals need to step up and ensure the safety, isolation and exposure reduction plans apply equally to them, maintaining a constant safety level to the entire fire department and your entire community.
- Things like ensuring fire fighters don't just congregate and wait if they miss the truck or return from a call and have not yet properly screened into the workplace.
- Insist on things such as enforced social distancing controlling response and any things you feel will help to address unnecessary exposure opportunities.
- Possibly some jurisdictional items may require pre-planning to ensure services are delivered in the event of large absences or illness within the two sides of composite departments.
Vacation and Lieu time off
- Your local may be challenged with addressing cancelled vacation or lieu time. Whether this was due to employee request or to provide adequate staffing for the municipality, you will undoubtedly have to discuss items such as pay-outs, carry-overs or larger groups off in the future in an effort to address the current needs of the department and municipality.
Grievance and Other Timelines
- Local leaders should continue to pay attention to timelines spelled out in your collective agreements with respect to grievance, collective agreement proposals and renewal etc. Continue to monitor and abide by them or sign an agreement with your employer/department that will extend timelines as may be necessary.
Many fire services, in consultation with their local union leadership, are working on plans to accommodate members if self isolation is needed due to incidents arising from the workplace.
- The proper isolation of fire fighters, when needed, will protect other employees and the public.
- Preparations can include arrangements with hotels or rental units should the need arise
- Discussion on how to isolate fire crews or personnel (including on-call, part-time who may respond in composite departments) should be had
- Each individual should consider their own plan should the need arise. Your own solution, if appropriate, may be the best should then need arise.
Public Health Ontario produces a document that is a collation of resource material. Document links are not official guidance from the Government of Ontario or the Ministry of Health, but generally they are from credible and reputable agencies.