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Closure of Ontario Fire College a ‘major blow’ to small and rural communities: OPSEU/SEFPO

Toronto – OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is calling the provincial government’s announced closure of the Ontario Fire College a major blow to small and rural communities.

“Most communities are already suffering the effects of never-ending COVID-19 lockdowns,” said Thomas. “They don’t need more costs piled on their plate, they need relief now.”

The college, located in Gravenhurst, provides fire service training to hundreds of municipal fire departments who do not have the capacity or resources to provide their own in-house training.

“Closing the college is terrible news for the staff, the people of Gravenhurst and the hundreds of small municipalities that don’t have the resources to provide their own fire service training,” said Thomas.

“We stand with the community of Gravenhurst, and with all municipalities affected by this decision to say keep it open,” said Thomas. “Our smaller communities have already suffered too much; they need to keep good jobs at home, not have them shipped off to Toronto.”

The college’s closure on March 31, 2021 means the province would continue to oversee curriculum development through an office in Toronto, while municipalities would be on the hook for field and other training requirements.

OPSEU/SEFPO – which represents 27 staff at the OFC – has negotiated alternate job arrangements for staff affected by the impending closure of the 71-year-old institution, run by the Ministry of the Solicitor General (SolGen). Ten members have been given the option to relocate to Toronto and take positions at the office. The other 17 staff will have help finding comparable jobs in other communities, if they wish.

“We’ve done absolutely everything possible to soften the blow for the dedicated members of the OFC team,” said Ram Selvarajah, co-chair of the Ministry Employee Relations Committee for SolGen. “I’m confident that any who choose to stay with the Ontario Public Service will be able to.

“However, they have deep roots in this community,” he added. “Moving to a house in Toronto that costs three times as much or relocating to a new community potentially hundreds of kilometres away, will be gut-wrenching for many.”

OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida says the union has done everything it can for the members affected. “We want the college to stay open,” said Almeida, “But we’re making the best of a bad situation by bargaining with the employer to give our members the option to stay in the Ontario Public Service.”

Thomas said he was grateful to the MERC and negotiators for their hard work on behalf of members. “When I see the concern of our staff and elected reps for our members, I’m so grateful, once again, for unions. We make a difference.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931