Firefighters have our backs, and we have their’s

By MPP Toby Barrett

Recently Paris, Ontario, hosted the 120th annual meeting of the Fire Fighters Association of Ontario. Premier Doug Ford and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, as well as Brant-Brantford MPP and volunteer firefighter Will Bouma, attended to celebrate our volunteer firefighters.

Over 60 per cent of Ontario’s firefighters are volunteers, and across Haldimand-Norfolk it’s 100 per cent.

These firefighters are from our communities and are committed to keeping their friends and neighbours safe. They are on call around the clock . . .  missing birthdays, anniversaries, and other special family occasions . . .  to protect people and property. They are the backbone of firefighting in rural Ontario.

There is something unique about volunteer firefighters. They arrive on the scene, and on a good day, everyone leaves without a scratch. But on their worst day, when it’s a bad accident or a five-alarm blaze, it can be a nightmare.

We know many of our firefighters struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It is our duty to take care of them because they take care of us. Mental health is health – that’s why our government is investing $3.8 billion over the next decade in mental health services. A big thank you to MPP Bouma, who along with Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Health Minister Christine Elliott, put forth tireless efforts to promote Ontario’s first Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day.

Over the years, we have asked government to protect full-time firefighters who want to volunteer for their local fire department when they are off duty. As well, to protect the many who serve as volunteer firefighters as a path to full-time employment.

Prior to our government’s changes, full-time firefighters risked fines or dismissal if they chose to serve as volunteers. I’m proud our government acted early in our mandate to eliminate these unfair penalties.

Our government’s changes, mean firefighters can return to their communities to volunteer. Nobody should ever be punished for going above and beyond and for volunteering to make our neighbourhoods better and safer places to live.

Ensuring the safety and security of people is government’s most fundamental responsibility.

Throughout the past year, Ontario’s Office of the Fire Marshal has conducted numerous explosion investigations caused by cannabis extraction operations. Because of this we’ve introduced changes to require industries involved in hazardous extraction to abide by enhanced fire requirements. These amendments will ensure a fast and safe exit in case of an explosion.

Furthermore, because of our changes, the extraction of cannabis and other oils using combustible or flammable solvents will be prohibited in all residences and in all below-grade spaces, such as basements.

But tough rules are worthless without compliance. By increasing the maximum fines for most offences and by establishing higher maximum fines for subsequent offences, our government is making violators of fire safety rules face the consequences of their dangerous actions.

Each fall I look forward to attending the Haldimand County volunteer firefighter recognition event, as well as so many other events organized by firefighters.

We need to look after our heroes. We thank them for their service and offer a big thank you to their families for letting them always be there to help out.

Firefighters have our backs and we have a government that has their’s.

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk.