A motion to fund COVID testing for firefighters who continue to refuse the vaccine was soundly defeated by council.
Thamesville Councillor Steve Pinsonneault, who is a volunteer firefighter himself, introduced the matter. He asked for weekly testing to be covered through either the provincial Safe Restart Fund or a municipal reserve.
This was in reaction to a policy enacted last month which requires any unvaccinated volunteer with the municipality to provide two negative COVID tests a week at their own expense, including volunteer firefighters.
Pinsonneault wanted to know why paramedics have their tests for unvaccinated workers covered but not firefighters.
“Tiered medical response was brought into the fire department to ease the burden on EMS. We’re such a vast area that our EMS just can’t handle every square foot in a timely fashion,” says Pinsonneault.
Despite performing some of the same roles, paramedics are covered under a different provincial category than firefighters.
“Volunteer firefighters are not in it for the money… They choose to serve their communities… And they’re expected to pay $45 two or three times a week in order to fight fires. Honestly this is a kick in the teeth,” says Pinsonneault.
He says there’s 18 volunteer and two full-time firefighters who aren’t vaccinated.
Marianne Fenton, acting chief human resources officer, says the volunteer policy was “designed to be fair across the organization,” and passing Pinsonneault’s motion “would mean that one division in our organization is given this preference to be able to have this testing paid for, where the rest don’t.”
Fenton added about half of all Chatham-Kent’s unvaccinated volunteers are in the fire department.
Gord Quinton, chief financial officer, says he wasn’t sure if the costs would qualify under the Safe Restart Fund. “I don’t personally believe it is the province’s intent to pay for testing, but I don’t expect there’s any way they could object to it either,” he says, noting the provincial wording is very vague.
However Quinton added council already established testing costs as an employee responsibility rather than a municipal one, so it would be hard to justify coverage with provincial money. He also pointed out government funding is available for 2021, so when 2022 rolls around they would have to dip into reserves.
After hearing from staff Pinsonneault’s motion was voted down 14-4.
Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent