With the recent position statement issued by the IAFC, “two-hatters” are again in the spotlight.
I have participated in discussions concerning a career firefighter’s right to volunteer as a firefighter in other communities. And it is refreshing and encouraging that an organization such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs takes a very clear position on it.
Now; I don’t believe that it is wise to volunteer in the rural portion of the municipal department that a firefighter works full time for, but I see nothing wrong with that same firefighter volunteering outside of the community where he works. It should be his/her individual right to volunteer or not.
The issue evokes as much emotion as discussions on politics and religion among firefighters. The reasons, both pro and con, fly back and forth like Scud missiles!
The IAFF’s official, public position on the practice of two-hatting is stated in part in a letter from Harold Schaitberger to Felix Grucci on July 25, 2002 and states, “…Specifically, concern has been raised that our organization [IAFF] engages in actions against volunteer firefighters that would be injurious to these individuals’ employment status, and job security with their government and/or fire department position…[T]he IAFF does not support actions that would jeopardize the ability of a career firefighter to obtain or maintain active membership in a volunteer organization. This is a personal choice.”
However; these statements are in direct contradiction of the IAFF’s Resolution 43 that condoned and encouraged reprisals against professional firefighters in Prince George’s County, Maryland and as volunteers in nearby communities.
Schaitberger has since clarified his position on union members volunteering as firefighters by stating, “Although an IAFF member may make a personal choice to join a volunteer fire department, that personal choice is one that can have serious consequences under our Constitution, including the loss of IAFF membership”.
So, you have IAFF members who want the freedom to choose to volunteer on their off days and you have a union that wants monopoly-bargaining control over its members.
What are some of the other issues at play in this controversy?
From the union’s side, they feel that it softens their bargaining power if members fight fires for free during their off time. Some believe that, by limiting union participation in volunteer departments, that you could force some communities to go with full time departments.
Injuries and illness have been raised as concerns. What happens if a career firefighter is injured while volunteering and can’t work his full time job? He might collect temporary benefits and his position may have to be covered with overtime.
What happens if the firefighter gets cancer? Did he get it as a volunteer or at his full time gig? It opens up the whole “presumptive Pandora’s Box”.
These are legitimate concerns and to a degree, an entity has a right to protect its “investment”.
But, how far can that go? Will you be told that you can’t ride motorcycles, para-sail, scuba dive or own guns, because those activities pose risks?
That reason that this two-hatter issue hits the hot button is simple: does a union, employer, government entity or anyone else who may exert power or authority over us have the right to tell us how we may spend our free time?
If they do, where do you draw the line?
If they don’t, then who pays if there is a catastrophic illness?
In my mind, there are still more questions than answers.
And it leaves me wondering if a community would give up fire protection all together rather than pay for full time protection.
After all; isn’t that the bottom line; what type of fire protection a community wants and can afford?