Joseph Morin
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WINCHESTER – North Dundas firefighters have a new tool in their toolbox to encourage firefighters who want to obtain their DZ driver’s licence to apply for one.

The licence is necessary to drive the large fire trucks in each fire station.  

Ensuring there are enough credited drivers for the various stations has traditionally been an issue.

In the past, the cost of licence certification was the responsibility of the candidate. They had to come up with the estimated $1,000 or more necessary to take the licensing course. Once training is successfully completed, the municipality would pay the licensed firefighter back over five years for the training cost.

However, not all firefighters were able to come up with the funds up front. Consequently, it has been more challenging to encourage volunteer firefighters to apply to obtain their DZ licence.

Firefighting in rural Ontario serve their communities as volunteers.

When they obtain a DZ licence, they own that licence. If they serve as firefighters for a few years and then leave the fire service, they take that licence with them; the cost of a licence is usually the municipality’s responsibility which would then be lost, and a new volunteer firefighter would have to be found who has the resources to pay for DZ training.

The new North Dundas Driver Certification Program policy addresses the challenge of individual firefighters having to pay the $1,000 fee up front.

The new policy has the municipality cover the cost of the licence right from the beginning for a candidate. If the cost exceeds $1,000, the candidate is expected to pay the difference at the end of their training.

Any of the four fire chiefs in North Dundas can nominate two firefighters each for training. The candidates are sent for evaluation and a cost assessment is made regarding how much it will cost to train the candidate.

The important difference between past policies and this new one is that a firefighter will not have to bear the burden of a $1,000 licence-training bill, the municipality now pays for it.

Finding the best candidates and volunteers who will make a significant commitment to their fire service is key to the new program. Fire chiefs are expected to look for that commitment and dedication in a firefighter when they recommend them for the training.

The policy states: “Only employees, including firefighters, who require a DZ licence in performance of their duties for the township, and who are recommended by their Department Head and approved by the CAO, are eligible to receive training through the North Dundas Driver Certification Program.”

Chesterville fire chief, Michael Gruich presented the updated policy to the North Dundas council at the May 25 council meeting.

Gruich said, “It also specifies firefighter training recommendations to ensure that there are an adequate number of firefighters per station possessing a DZ licence and the process to review the potential candidates recommended for training.”

One of the criteria for a candidate to be considered is that they have one year of service with the fire department.

“Fire chiefs or deputy chiefs will now be able to recommend a candidate for driver training and the township will cover the $1,000 cost of the training including costs incurred, for specific firefighters from their station to obtain their DZ licence.”

If a firefighter does not complete the DZ training or fails it, they are responsible for the cost of the course, not the municipality.

Creating the policy was not an easy task.

Deputy mayor Al Armstrong who is also the municipality’s fire commissioner said, “It has been a lengthy process.”

Holding several meetings to hammer out a policy that was good for everyone was a challenge.

“There were many meetings to look at different options and as it evolved more questions came up,” said Armstrong. “The one thing that was constant was that we do have an issue of having enough drivers for each of our stations.”

The fire commissioner believes the policy is one that everyone can agree on.

“I think this is something everyone is happy with,” he said.

“We gave a lot of latitude to the chiefs to promote and acknowledge the people they feel should become drivers in their stations.”

To transition from the previous “reimbursement” program under the original Driver Certification Program Training Policy to the new training fee coverage process, any drivers currently being reimbursed in equal payments over five years will be paid the outstanding amount in full.