Halifax’s career firefighters have struck a new deal with the municipality.
Council approved the contract during its in camera session on Tuesday, as first reported by Halifax Fire News and confirmed by the Halifax Examiner.
Halifax Professional Firefighters Local 268 represents nearly 500 Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency firefighters. The union’s last collective agreement with HRM expired at the end of May 2021.
Brendan Meagher, president of the union, told the Examiner in an email the new contract is retroactive to June 2021. It expires at the end of May 2025.
“The new deal sees us continue with straight time overtime for Operational Firefighters. We hope this will not stall future hirings, our members have worked excessive overtime in the last few years due to converting Fall River and Sheet Harbour to 24 / 7 / 365 staffing ( from the previous 10.5 hours Monday to Friday coverage model ) and freezing hiring for 18 months during the pandemic,” Meagher wrote.
“We had hoped to return to 1.5 X overtime, primarily to discourage future hiring freezes and excessive overtime resulting from the massive savings straight time overtime gives the city.”
Firefighters are paid based on a percentage of Halifax Regional Police officers’s pay. They currently make 97% of police officers’ wages, and will move to 99% in 2024, Meagher said. Police received a 10% increase over four years in a new contract ratified last year awarded via arbitration.
President says firefighters chose staffing over pay
Meagher said the union chose not to pursue time-and-a-half overtime and full wage parity with police through arbitration. Instead, it worked to develop a memorandum of understanding with HRM to staff fire apparatus with four firefighters.
“This allows first arriving crews to show up with enough Firefighters to start a fire attack and primary search for people who may be inside a building,” Meagher said.
“We have a policy that does not allow us to enter a burning structure with less than 4 Firefighters on scene. Our members are affected by negative outcomes, proper staffing is a priority to us.”
Meagher said he’s hopeful council will recognize the fire service isn’t keeping up with growth. He also wants to see more fire stations and more firefighters. In particular, he wants a new fire station to serve the Larry Uteck, Hammonds Plains, and Tantallon areas.
HRM plans to create a new station at 10 Science Park Dr. in Bedford. The municipality now plans to use the site for a new station and Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency’s headquarters. A consultant is currently designing the new station, with $13 million budgeted for construction in fiscal 2025-2026.
Praise for Chief Ken Stuebing
Meagher said council has been “somewhat responsive” in recent years. But that doesn’t make up for decades without growth in the department.
“The current Fire Chief has been the best since amalgamation at advocating the needs of the service. Every year he asks for staff and capital investments and some requests are supported, however too few and those needs that go without support do not go away,” he wrote.
“After decades of underfunding the service, city council have made increases to our resources in recent years, but I fear they do not comprehend how long and how badly we were under-resourced. Another staffing freeze or failure to invest in apparatus ( which now take almost 2 years from tender to build ) or new stations would be short sighted and potentially disastrous.”
Council is heading into a budget season where it’s trying to avoid a steep tax increase at all costs.