Vancouver fire fighters
first formed a union in 1911
At a time when fire fighters worked under a continuous duty system. This meant a 24-hour day with three hours off for meals and only one day off in seven. They agreed to disband this first attempt at organization shortly afterwards in exchange for an increase in much needed pay. Five years later, in 1916, Vancouver was the eighteenth fire department local in North America to organize, receiving a charter from the American Federation of Labour, and becoming the first Canadian union of fire fighters. After a protracted negotiation ended in a strike in 1917, the new union was able to secure one day off in four with the savings achieved by the advent of full motorization and the sale of its steamers and horses. On February 28th 1918, Vancouver fire fighters were the only Canadians among a number of unionized fire fighters that came together from across the continent to form the International Association of Fire Fighters. Local 18 and the IAFF are proud of their long association across the continent and the international border.
Local 18 member George A. Richardson, who was present at the inception of the IAFF, served 36 years as IAFF Secretary Treasurer in Washington D.C, and remains the longest serving principle officer of the IAFF. It must not be forgotten that Canadian fire fighters helped to forge this strong organization into what it is today. During its long association with the IAFF, Local 18 has emerged as a leader in the areas of collective bargaining, occupational health & safety improvements, training initiatives, workers’ compensation benefit advocacy, staffing levels, and response times to the over 70,000 annual emergency calls.
Since the Fire of 1886 that razed the city, Vancouver has grown into one of the most complex urban high-rise and high-density cities on our continent, incorporating the South Vancouver, Point Grey and University Endowment Lands fire departments in the last century. Local 18 fire fighters have protected Vancouver’s 44 square miles throughout its many years of growth and will continue to ensure its strong professional presence as Vancouver grows in this new millennium.
Over our proud history, Local 18 has partnered with the IAFF to help set public safety standards across North America through its involvement in legislative arenas, political action, and state and provincial Health and Safety standards boards including the National Fire Protection Association. Fire safety and fire awareness save lives, and Local 18 members strongly support standards for safety of the public and for all professional fire fighters. More recently, Local 18 has been a leader in the promotion and achievement of cancer presumption legislation and the public safety officers’ benefit.
Local 18 has helped found a program of public CPR training and members support many worthwhile charitable organizations through their Vancouver Firefighters’ Charitable Society. Local 18 members conceived and produced the Hall of Flame Fire Fighters Charity Calendar, now in its 31st year of publication. Proceeds from calendar sales are responsible for raising over $1,000,000.00 for various charitable organizations such as the CKNW Orphan’s Fund, BC Children’s Hospital, BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund and more.
Mostly though, Local 18 is committed to serving those that are committed to serving the public — the 775 men and women who comprise the Local 18 Fire Fighters. Our full-service union Local is affiliated with the Canadian Labour Congress, the BC Federation of Labour, the Vancouver and District Labour Council, as well as the BC Professional Fire Fighters’ Association, and is a daily advocate on issues affecting its members.
It is important to remember the gains we have made in our wages, benefits, and standard of living have come because we have stuck together in the tradition of labour unions. It is too easy to forget how far we have come from continuous duty and no personal protective equipment to today’s working conditions inclusive of our high and ever improving safety standards. These gains were not handed to us, but were won through the efforts of dedicated and self-educated members striving for professional standards and respect. These union members have been driven by a strong moral code, selflessly working for the benefit of all fire fighters and leaving no member behind.
Our union membership has changed with the times and now reflects the diverse makeup of the city more accurately, including women and men of different cultures and backgrounds. This has made our union stronger and more responsive to the community we serve. While the faces of our membership have changed, what has remained the same is our knowledge of our traditions and culture, and our strong desire to protect our city.
We are very proud of our over 100 years of democratic and parliamentary tradition that is the heart and soul of our governance. Local 18 shines as a beacon on the West Coast of the continent. Fire fighters were here in the pioneer days, and fire fighters are here in the presence of our modern technological society. Fire fighters will continue to be here, as the citizens of the City of Vancouver move into a future that will most assuredly see them in greater need of improved and ongoing protection from Local 18. May that future continue to be proud for all.