The 56th Convention of International Firefighters kicked off at the Shaw Centre on Monday, August 8th, with over 2,200 attendees from regions over North America. This biannual event was held in Canada for the first time in 16 years and was a first for the Shaw Centre. The event’s theme was Commitment to Excellence which certainly foreshadowed the rest of the convention as 43 of the 47 resolutions were adopted. Each day round table discussions were held on four topics: cancer in the fire service, financial wellness, the wildland-urban interface, and behavioral health.
Our out-of-town visitors contributed to the local economy by enjoying our robust culinary scene, shopping within the Rideau Centre, and other sorts of entertainment within the city. Their opening reception hosted by Ottawa Local 162 was held at Lowertown Brewery. District 12 also held a reception later in the week at the Heart and Crown in the Byward market. Other venues such as the Westin and the Canadian Museum of History also benefited from the convention, with receptions and smaller meetings held in their space. This event was classified as a city-wide convention producing approximately 7,500 rooms for local hotels and boosted the region’s economy by approximately 4 million dollars.
Event Manager Greg Giek explains this was his first large union-based event. “They conducted their membership business with motions, actions, discussions, and votes. It was a true business conference, not just an education or information-based event. Every event you plan, you’re exposed to a new industry and the opportunity to learn something new. It was an honour to plan this event for people who put their lives at risk every day to protect your own.”
The first day began with an invocation from Reverend Canon John Bridges, followed by President Doug McLennan from Ottawa Local 162, who welcomed the attendees to the Nation’s Capital that sits on Algonquin nation land. Algonquin Eagle clan member Ooshka Migun Awaashi joins the stage to offer a tribal blessing to acknowledge the Algonquin territory. The convention commences with McLennan presenting the General President of IAFF, Edward Kelly, with a thunderbird gavel custom-made by an Algonquin carver. Both the United States and the Canadian anthems played during an emotional tribute to members of the IAFF who have passed in the line of duty since the previous convention. Next, Dr. Lori Moore-Merryl virtually introduced US President Joe Biden, who greeted delegates and commended them for their acts of service.
The primary round table discussion commenced, and the topic was heavy, cancer among firefighters. Cancer is the #1 occupational killer among firefighters, and it’s claimed the lives of more firefighters than any other work-related hazard. CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society states, “We have thousands of cancer cases in Canada every year due to on-the-job exposures,” she says. “More data is needed to improve prevention strategies, but right now, our organization provides a plethora of resources, including a helpline and free lodging if you have to travel for cancer treatment.” All professionals at the round table agreed that the fight against cancer among firefighters starts with more research.
Attendees express vigorous support for adding 9.5 cents per capita to assist and fund research into occupational cancer. In addition, delegates and alternates unanimously adopted a resolution to provide $500,000 each year to reinforce IAFF’s ongoing battle against occupational cancer.
Learn about more resolutions adopted on the first day of the conference and view highlights captured from day one.
The floor opens up to members sharing news and updates from their districts and locals; gratitude fills the room as many members share their relatable stories.
The roundtable discussion started with the topic of financial wellness among present and retired members. The organization’s financial goal is to supply families with products and services to help achieve financial stability without having to make significant increases in union dues. The roundtable speakers discussed how members of IAFF can grow their earnings and prepare for retirement.
An issue presented was finding retirees’ support for medical care among firefighters. Panelists shared options for retired firefighters, such as the Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan (MERP), which falls under the IAFF-FC umbrella. This plan helps participating members pay for health insurance and other expenses and now serves over 8,600 members.
Resolution 19 – funding cancer research passed unanimously.
The third day starts with a heartwarming update from the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada. IAFF has a long-standing partnership of 68 years with both the Canadian and U.S associations and has raised $679 million for the cause. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provided a virtual welcome for delegates and their guests to Canada and Ottawa.
The roundtable topic focused on fighting fire in the wildland-urban interface. Although, in the past, wildfires mostly concerned regions in the southern and western states, they are now becoming a major concern across North America.
“Our problem is that we don’t have enough resources to respond to these fires properly. We have been fighting for years to bring up staffing levels, but we are not there yet. Sometimes we must bring in out-of-state resources, but the issue with that is that those firefighters may not have the same training or use the same terminology. This creates a disconnect and hinders operations.” said CAL FIRE Local 2881 President Tim Edwards, a 30-year veteran firefighter.
Staff at the IAFF headquarters analyzed the training available to determine which pieces would apply to the structural firefighters that respond to the interface and how they could use their existing equipment to train them. The result was the launch of the IAFF Responding to the Interface training program.
General President Kelly spoke with U.S President Joe Biden about the importance of RTI training; though not released at this time, federal funding will soon be available in the United States. The Canadian government allocated $37.9 million in April 2022 to wildland firefighting response, $600,000 of which will be used for the IAFF RTI training.
The conference’s final day started with a moment of silence for a Memphis firefighter, David Pleasant, who tragically passed in the line of duty the previous evening.
The last roundtable discussion concentrated on behavioral health concerns among firefighters. The effects of the job can sometimes lead to behavioral health problems, which can cause PTSD leading to substance abuse or even suicide.
“Far too often, we have that brother or sister in the firehouse that no one ever saw it was coming. We need to be proactive and cognisant and reach out to someone that you know is spinning out of control and try to catch them early on, it’s kind of similar to cancer.” – President Edward Kelly
IAFF’s Behavioral Health Committee member notes they have built the largest peer support program. Peer support counselors within hundreds of locals are available on the spot to assist a firefighter in need. In 2017, the IAFF opened the Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery in Maryland, focusing on firefighters needing more intensive treatment. Currently, there are plans to open a second center on the west coast of the U.S. For members in Canada, the IAFF has partnered with Edgewood Health Network.
The convention finished on a high note as the leaders throughout sixteen districts in Canada and the U.S were recognized at the Local Leadership Awards.
“We are strong because these leaders are in the trenches fighting for the rights and benefits of our 330,291 members. These brothers and sisters show what leadership is all about, and we are all proud of you,” said IAFF General President Edward Kelly.
The host local 162 was thanked for hosting a successful convention in the nation’s capital. IAFF General President Edward Kelly thanks the President of Local 162 and his team with a commemorative bell.
The convention location for the 58th IAFF conference in 2026 was voted to be held in Arlington, Texas.