By Philip C. Stittleburg, NVFC Chairman
Washington, D.C. – On behalf of volunteer firefighters across the country, I condemn in the strongest possible terms the new contract between the city of Hartford, Connecticut and the Hartford Fire Fighters Association forbidding full-time firefighters to serve as volunteers in their home communities. It is amazing that in a time when there is a revived push led by President Bush for volunteerism across the country, the city of Hartford and the local union have the gall to try to tell firefighters they cannot serve their local communities during off-duty hours.
We are told by advocates of this policy that it is a “health and safety issue” and that firefighters are given time off to recoup and relax. I haven’t heard anything about a clause in the agreement barring firefighters from strenuous second jobs in construction and other trades. There appears to be nothing in the contract prohibiting a Hartford firefighter from partaking in potentially dangerous hobbies like skiing or skydiving. What about career firefighters who work or volunteer for state or local fire training agencies? Are they not allowed to educate fellow firefighters during their off-duty hours?
We are told that union and city leadership are worried that families will not be able to collect benefits because the firefighters may be injured or killed volunteering outside the jurisdiction of their employer. In reality, a large majority of volunteer fire departments have their own benefits that would cover the firefighter or their family. In fact, the likelihood of that firefighter being covered is much greater in a volunteer fire company than in some other part-time job.
We have also constantly been assured by union leadership that the “two-hatter” issue is only about possible loss of union membership and that a career firefighter’s employment or benefits are not in jeopardy if they continue to serve their hometowns as volunteers. Wrong again. The Hartford contract, and others like it across the country, clearly states that firefighters who volunteer to save lives and property with volunteer fire departments will face disciplinary action from his or her employer, not just the union.
Finally, time and time again we are told that anti-volunteer efforts by local unions are limited to just a few areas of the country and the friction is based on local disputes and personalities. However, this issue has surfaced in Maryland, Virginia, New York, California, Oregon, Washington State, Florida, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ontario, Canada and now Connecticut. It appears to me this is not a “local” issue.
Well, enough is enough. The leadership of the volunteer fire service, including myself, are sick of beating around the bush and not exposing this policy for what it is — an organized campaign against the volunteer fire service aimed at destroying our ranks in the hope of increasing union membership and power.
I have never heard of a case where a volunteer firefighter was discouraged from pursuing a career in the paid fire and emergency services. In fact, it is encouraged. So why do big labor bosses strong arm their members to keep them from remaining affiliated with the departments in which they started?
As this campaign expands, the results will be devastating to the protection of communities in suburban and rural areas. These departments will surely lose firefighters, many of whom play key roles in firefighter training and safety.
Nobody should have the right to tell firefighters how they should or should not spend their off-duty time, which is their own time, especially when they are spending that time doing good in their community. I call on firefighters across this country to steadfastly fight these abominable union actions wherever they may arise. I furthermore urge firefighters to educate their elected officials at all levels of government about the destructive effects this policy will have on communities nationwide.