Unvaccinated Chatham-Kent firefighters will have to pay for their own frequent COVID-19 testing.
During last week’s council meeting, Chatham-Kent council failed to pass a motion to cover the costs of COVID-19 testing for firefighters who are not getting vaccinated.
East Kent Councillor Steve Pinsonneault made a motion to have the cost of COVID-19 tests covered for unvaccinated volunteer firefighters through the Safe Restart Fund from the province.
Ultimately, the motion was defeated by a 14-4 vote.
Noting that Emergency Medical Services pays for testing unvaccinated paramedics, Pinsonneault said firefighters were called to provide a tiered medical response to help EMS in covering the large landscape of Chatham-Kent.
“Volunteer firefighters are not in it for the money,” said Pinsonneault. “They choose to serve their community.”
According to Pinsonneault, aside from station chiefs, deputy chiefs and captains, volunteer firefighters only earn about $5,000 a year.
“They’re expected to pay $45 dollars two or three times a week in order to fight fires,” said Pinsonneault. “Honestly, this is a kick in the teeth.”
He said the 18 volunteer firefighters out of 284 who have chosen not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are being pulled out of tiered medical response duties.
Pinsonneault added his motion is to cover all firefighters, not just volunteer firefighters because two full-time firefighters have also chosen not to be vaccinated.
Acting Chief Human Resources Officer Marianne Fenton followed this by saying the municipality implemented a vaccination and testing policy on Oct. 1 for 1,400 employees and volunteers, including volunteer firefighters.
She estimated that roughly half of the Chatham-Kent municipal employees who have opted for regular testing instead of vaccination are in the fire service.
“The policy encourages vaccination, but it does allow testing for those choosing not to vaccinate,” said Fenton.
She added the policy outlines testing to be on an employee’s own time and at their own cost.
“The policy had been designed to be fair across the organization, so this would mean that one division in our organization is given this preference to be able to have their testing paid for where the rest don’t.”
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News