In Canada, two-hatting is putting the public and fire fighters at risk 

Engaging in two-hatting may compromise rest and recovery for IAFF members and could result in lower wages in case of injury, illness, or death. It can negatively impact efforts to enhance working conditions, wages, and benefits for members in Canada.

June 5 • 2024

Ontario’s firefighting community is grappling with the controversial practice of two-hatting, igniting debates over safety and accountability.  

Two-hatting involves fire fighters serving in both full-time and paid-on-call (volunteer) roles across various departments. Despite appearing advantageous for communities, this practice comes with challenges, such as heightened fatigue, and greater exposure to health hazards. 

Legislative changes in 2018 affected the ability to curb the practice and effectively address the issue. 

To keep communities and fire fighters safe, 13th District Vice President Fred LeBlanc and Ontario fire fighters are leading efforts to educate the public and fire service community about the dangers of the practice. 

“The problem traces back to around 2000 when the Ontario fire marshal conducted a white paper on the reliance on ‘two-hatters’ in fire departments across the province. So, when we found that there were 1,000 two-hatters out there, we started an education campaign, but we also had the opportunity to enforce the IAFF Constitution. ” LeBlanc said. “Prior to Bill 57 through education and the occasional need for charges, we dropped that number to under 100 and those were largely in rural areas and not where we have IAFF affiliates. Since the passing of Bill 57, that number is beginning to climb causing concerns.“ 

The IAFF Constitution and By-Laws prohibits members from working a secondary job part-time as a fire fighter, emergency medical services worker, public safety or law enforcement officer, or in a related service, whether in the public or private sector, when the job is within the work jurisdiction of any affiliate or adversely impacts the interests of any affiliate or the IAFF. 

It feels like two-hatting works against you. While you pay dues to be a part of the organization to help set the priorities, you are working completely against this organization.

Dave andre, Local 162 president

Efforts have been made to tackle the issue, but Bill 57, which allows full-time fire fighters to serve as paid-on-call (volunteers) in their hometown without repercussions, has hindered disciplinary measures by the union.  

“We have a unique perspective in Ottawa because roughly 20 of our members work for us on the career side, but they also work for the same city as rural fire fighters,” said Dave Andre, President of Ottawa, ON Local 162. “It feels like two-hatting works against you. While you pay dues to be a part of the organization to help set the priorities, you are working completely against this organization.” 

Concerns related to fatigue, exposure to hazards, and mental health implications persist, impacting fire fighters’ well-being and safety.  


Two-hatting prevents fire fighters from obtaining necessary rest after a 24-hour shift, leading to fatigue and increased risk of accidents and injuries, jeopardizing safety for both fire fighters and the public. 

“After a shift at your career department or job you are prohibited from responding to another emergency call on that job. This is for the health and safety of the fire fighter, so the same should hold true regardless of where the emergency response is. So, you cannot effectively respond to the secondary department either,” said Greg Horton, Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association president. “If you’re out all night at a fire and then must work at your primary job, you may be fatigued and unprepared to perform your duties for the public. Health and Safety does not stop with a change in the postal code. This ‘rule’ of being free from calls for 24 hours following a shift should apply everywhere.” 

A recent Canadian survey of 1,217 fire fighters highlights a worrying link between sleep quality and mental health. It found that 69 percent of fire fighters reported poor sleep quality, and 21 percent had clinical insomnia, affecting both volunteer and career fire fighters. 

Health and Safety does not stop with a change in the postal code. This ‘rule’ of being free from calls for 24 hours following a shift should apply everywhere.

greg horton, OPFFA President

“Say I’m on a 24-hour shift. As per the Fire Protection and Prevention Act (FPPA), I’m supposed to have 24 hours off immediately following that shift,” said Michael Kalita, president of Clarington, ON Local 3139. “Those provisions do not apply to paid-on-call (volunteer) fire fighters, meaning they could be working our 24-hour shift, and we don’t know what they were doing the previous day, responding to multiple fires, car accidents, or medical calls. This means they could be back on duty without adequate rest. It’s a liability to themselves and to my members as well.” 

Fire fighters with insomnia faced a higher risk for other mental health disorders, including nearly five times the risk for PTSD and social phobia. Kalita says the toll of trauma on fire fighters’ mental and emotional health could lead to potential dangers with the dual roles. 

“We see things in the job that you should never have to see. They always say you are dealing with the consequences of other people; we are there for people at their worst times, such as a loved one passing away or taking their own life, horrific car accidents, or fires,” he said. “It takes a toll on yourself and your family. I’ve been advising our fire chief and mayor not to hire two-hatters because you’re dealing with twice the trauma, twice the exposure to cancer.” 


Working in multiple departments complicates responsibility and accountability, leading to administrative and safety issues, including complexities in liability and workers’ compensation claims. 

“In Ontario, if a paid-on-call fire fighter is injured, their full-time employer must accommodate them for up to two years,” said LeBlanc. “This is concerning given the nature of the job, which often leads to serious injuries that can last much longer than two years.” 

The obligation for work reintegration lasts only two years after an accident. After that, the injured paid-on-call fire fighter becomes the responsibility of the accident employer. If a paid-on-call fire fighter is injured, their full-time employer may not offer extra support unless required by contract, resulting in a salary reduction. 

This situation is especially challenging for fire fighters battling cancer who have served in two different municipalities for many years.

fred leblanc, 13th district vice president

“It is a significant gray area involving who absorbs the cost for your care. Is it the municipality that hires you part-time without benefits, or the full-time employer, even if you were not injured while working for them?” said Nelson Aguiar, treasurer of East Gwillimbury, Ontario, Local 4985. 

Two-hatters also face increased exposure to hazards, raising their risk of developing occupational diseases like cancer. Employers may contest claims if they think exposure happened in a fire fighter’s secondary job.  Time worked at different departments does not combine to count towards latency periods, so even though fire fighters face higher risk, they might not qualify for benefits if they don’t meet the required latency period. 

“This situation is especially challenging for fire fighters battling cancer who have served in two different municipalities for many years,” said LeBlanc. “These municipalities may argue over who is responsible for covering the claim, causing additional stress for the fire fighter already dealing with their illness and the future well-being of their family.” 

Behavioural Health  

Juggling multiple roles can affect fire fighters’ mental health and well-being, increasing the risk of burnout, PTSD, and stress. Two-hatting intensifies these challenges, potentially straining personal relationships due to demanding schedules. Professionally, it may lead to tensions within the union due to conflicting viewpoints on responsibilities and roles. 

“Two-hatting has had a significant impact on us; we’ve had over 20 individuals engaging in two-hatting and returning to work with additional responsibilities,” said Local 4986 President Brad McGuckin. “I have even sought therapy for the strain two-hatting has put on the union. It is not just about the job; it is about the toll this issue has taken on us personally, over the years.” 

Both Aguiar and McGuckin say some members feel two-hatters are working against the organization’s priorities by compromising safety. 

“The municipalities and the chiefs are looking for a cheaper option, encouraging people to do what they know is wrong, despite the impacts to their health and well-being,” said Aguiar.At the end of the day, we are talking about people’s lives, the people we protect, and that is not something you cut corners on. There are agreements made with the public that we are going to provide a certain level of service, not a certain level of service at a discount.” 

Increased cancer exposures  

A study released in March 2022 by the Occupational Cancer Research Centre at Ontario Health found that fire fighters in Ontario face a higher risk of cancer compared to other workers in the province.  

Working as a two-hatter increases fire fighters’ exposure to hazardous materials and carcinogens, jeopardizing their profession and benefits, and heightening the risk of serious health issues like cancer.  

“Those who work as paid-on-call could face double the exposure rates for both cancer and traumatic injuries. It is a lot for the human body to handle, including the mental trauma,” said Horton. 

With the traumatic events that come with the job, fire fighters have a higher percentage of having to leave the job for an injury or cancer. 

“I don’t think families realize the added traumatic events and exposures, and long term, these people will get sick and have a higher percentage of having to leave the job,” said Andre. 

Traditional volunteering vs. paid-on-call 

A volunteer is a person who offers their time, skills, or resources to help others, support a cause, or contribute to an organization without expecting payment or compensation in return.  

Unlike traditional volunteer work, two-hatting involves paid professionals taking on extra duties outside their primary employment, often for significant compensation.  

“We’re focused on our members, yet the term ‘volunteer’ can create confusion,” said LeBlanc. “We’ve been trying to move away from the term ‘volunteer’ to ‘paid-on-call,’ and we are making progress, especially since in Ontario, many of those fire fighters earn substantial salaries and are part of trade unions with collective agreements.” 

Fire fighters can volunteer in their communities without compromising their profession, benefits, or health, but two-hatting is not one of those opportunities. 

Key facts to remember 

  • IAFF members can work extra jobs to support themselves and their families, but taking on emergency response roles, like two-hatting, has drawbacks. Two-hatting devalues our profession. Other trade unions call it moonlighting and have disciplinary processes for their members engaged in moonlighting. Other professional organizations have their overviewing bodies that can discipline members.  
  • It can impact the rest and recovery needed to safeguard the community and fellow colleagues, and it may result in lower wages if there’s injury, illness, or death. 
  • Two-hatting negatively affects the IAFF’s efforts to enhance working conditions, wages, and benefits for members in Canada. As communities grow and tax bases increase, services should expand, including fully staffed fire departments. When municipalities rely on paid-on-call staff and inflate their risk response capabilities, they are not hiring the necessary number of career fire fighters to adequately respond to emergencies.  


Labour leaders believe educating the public, fire fighters, and their families will help raise awareness about the risks and long-term implications of two-hatting. 

“What they’re doing is becoming volunteers, often a path to a career as a fire fighter,” said Andre. “By going back, they take a spot from someone who could be training to start a career in firefighting.” 

“We’re happy to discuss the dangers of two-hatting, but for anyone who started as a volunteer and is now a career firefighter, you earned your position because someone else stepped aside,” said LeBlanc. “Allow others the opportunity to advance without blocking the path by holding a job that someone new needs to enter the fire service.” 

For more information, contact your Local President or DVP.