Honouring our firefighting members – International Firefighters’ Day

May 4th is International Firefighters’ Day – a day to recognize the contributions of all firefighters to improving and protecting our society. Wanting to recognize and honour her fellow firefighters who lost their lives battling a wildfire in Australia, Lt. JJ Edmondson made it her mission to “organize an internationally recognized symbol of support and respect for ALL firefighters and a date for which these could be coordinated worldwide.”[1] The date of May 4 was chosen since it is linked to the Feast of St. Florian, the patron saint of firefighters. With this in mind, we want to take a moment to recognize our firefighter members and to provide an update on the work we have been doing with this group.

We want to again welcome our newest local, Calgary Airport Firefighters – Local 30302. They officially joined UCTE this past March and are on their way to negotiating their first collective agreement. We wish you all the best and look forward to getting to know you more as time goes by.

As a union, one of priority concerns is for the health and safety of our members. It is a well-known fact that firefighters are exposed to many carcinogenic agents which has led to an increase in cancer of various types. Unfortunately, how each province’s workers’ compensation bureau addresses the issue when a member becomes ill varies. UCTE is actively conducting research as to how best to address this issue with the ultimate goal of having a standardized presumptive cancer registry, similar to the federal asbestos registry. This is a long-term goal, but we are committed to seeing it happen.

In the short-term, one step that can be taken is for the employer to implement a decontamination policy. Unfortunately, many of the airports do not have one or, if they do, it falls short. UCTE members helped the PSAC draft an extensive document that we consider to be the gold standard for decontamination policies. We encourage all our local health and safety committees to present this document and ask for it to be implemented in your workplaces. We will also be placing the creation and/or review of a decontamination policy as a bargaining demand for all airport members.

There has been a disturbing trend of downgrading the work of airport firefighters. Whether it be by changing job titles, work descriptions, or regulations, both government and airports have undermined the role of the airport firefighter.

The fact is that most employers will do the bare minimum to comply with Civil Aviation Regulations (CARs). These standards are to meet those established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to which Canada is a signatory. Regrettably, CARs fails to meet many of the base criteria. Why does Canada think that  the travelling public in Canada deserves less than the minimum? Why does Canada think they are exempt from ICAO standards?

UCTE is in constant talks with Transport Canada to hold airports to the higher standards. We continue to challenge airport authorities and seek regulatory interpretations. Recently, we received confirmation that how many airports are interpreting the use of on-scene commanders is incorrect. The role of the on-scene commander is vital in the case of an emergency and we are pleased to finally have this established as a separate role and not an add-on function to someone’s job. This information will be shared shortly with our airport locals. More details to follow in the coming weeks.

Over the last year we have seen many exemptions or changes being made to regulatory changes in response to COVID-19. While we understand that many of these measures are needed, UCTE will be monitoring closely to ensure that the minimum standard that we had prior to the pandemic is restored.

So on this May 4th, we want to thank our firefighter members for all that they do.

[1] https://www.firefightersday.org/about-iffd/ (accessed May 3, 2021)

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