The Beatles song Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band starts with “Twenty years ago today.” But let’s start a little further back.
In 1939 the Township of Scarborough had seven full time fire fighters. Thomas Love, George Collins, William Crates, Gordon Ranson, James Bernard, Fredrick Rate and John Wormington. On May 8, 1939 they were granted a Charter under the International Association of Fire Fighters, and the Scarborough Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 626 was born.
When the Association received its Charter in 1939, Thomas Love not only became the first President but was also fire chief; it's believed he was president for about five years. Other past presidents include Harry Treadway (1952-1954), Earl Strong (1956-1958), Bud Wallace (1959 – 1960), William MacFarlane (1961-1970), Ron Merriman (1971 - 1972 & 1979), Ted Barnes (1973-1978), and Barry Papaleo (1979 – 1998).
In 1998 the Scarborough Professional Fire Fighters Association represented 487 full time paid professional fire fighters, fire prevention officers, and technicians in the City of Scarborough. The City had a population of 550,000 and was approximately 72 sq. miles in size.
This growth saw the Association with nine executive officers which included the President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. The Locals’ Executive Board worked hard at representing the 487 full time paid professional fire service employees.
By the time of the amalgamation Local 626 grew from those first seven to 859 retired and active members.
It was in 1998 that the Ontario Government of Mike Harris would amalgamate the six municipalities that made up Metropolitan Toronto. Despite push back from those municipalities and many other stakeholders, Harris got his way.
October 5, 1998 marks the day 20 years ago that the Scarborough Professional Fire Fighters Local 626 merged with the other five IAFF Locals - Etobicoke, East York, North York, York, and Toronto - to become known as the Toronto Professional Fire Fighters Association IAFF Local 3888. While the merger of those Locals went well, pulling the six collective agreements together into one would take some time.
It’s no secret that Scarborough Fire Fighters arguably had the strongest collective agreement in the fire service. In fact, the push by the Scarborough Fire Fighters for better working conditions and fair treatment are shared by many in the fire service today.
The Ontario High Court of Justice decision on job descriptions or the notorious Side Burn grievance, which while on its face was about side burns, it also was about so much more, are just a couple of the many issues where Local 626 fought for a better collective agreement and working conditions for Scarborough Fire Fighters and subsequently fared well for all fire fighters.
I still remember the outrage at the Attendance program implemented by the Fire Chief. Local 626 felt it may be flawed, so yes, they filed a grievance. And while all other locals sat back and watched with baited breath, Scarborough pressed on. The outcome wasn’t exactly what may have been hoped for, but the arbitrator did outline what the employer could expect in such a program and it continues to impact those programs today.
That’s probably the last time that the strong resolve of Local 626 would have an effect on collective agreements in Ontario, across Canada, and most likely the United States.
After 59 years the Scarborough Professional Fire Fighters Association office closed on October 31, 1998
In part, I know Harris hoped his plan would have had an impact on the collective agreements as the six were made one. However, fast forward to today and the hard work for salaries, working conditions, and fair treatment haven’t been lost with that merger 20 years ago. Over the years the Executive Boards of Local 3888 have continued to work hard on improvements. One which comes to mind is the improvement of benefits to age 65 and, of course, the Health Care Spending Account (post 65 benefits).
With the doors of Local 626 closed firmly behind us, many from Local 626 both retired and active carry on through the Scarborough Professional Fire Fighters Retirees Club, gathering monthly for lunch and to share a few stories. Hopefully a tradition that will carry on for years to come.
On this twenty year anniversary, we can all look back and see highs and lows of our careers, but one thing is a given: the good outweighs the not so good…and it’s the best damn career there is.