Renfrew, Ont., fire chief fights town over forced retirement

Guy Longtin will fight mandatory retirement after 26 years on the job, saying he plans to make those who made the decision "fully accountable for their illegal actions."

Eastern Ontario town's council forcing 61-year-old fire chief to retire

The town council for Renfrew, Ont., forced the retirement of its fire chief, Guy Longtin, in a closed-door meeting on May 7, 2018. (Facebook)

The former fire chief for Renfrew, Ont., is fighting back against a move to push him into retirement with a legal fight launched Wednesday.

From 1992 until May 7, 2018, 61-year-old Guy Longtin was the fire chief in the community, which lies about an hour west of Ottawa.

But in a closed-door meeting held Monday, town council adopted rules setting the age limit for the fire chief at 60, which is the same limit the province set years earlier for frontline firefighters.

"Given that I have exceeded this arbitrarily imposed age requirement for this position, my employment with the Town of Renfrew was terminated immediately," Longtin wrote Monday in a public post on Facebook.

"It is my intention to hold the Town of Renfrew, and its responsible decision-makers, fully accountable for their illegal actions," Longtin wrote in a message to CBC News. 

"In moving forward with this case, it is my intention to speak not only for myself, but for other older workers across the province, who deserve to be judged by the quality of their workplace contributions, not simply by the numbers on their birth certificates."

Longtin said he will decide in the coming days whether to fight his mandatory retirement through the Ontario Human Rights Commission or the courts.

Mandatory retirement for firefighters

In 2011, Ontario amended its Fire Protection and Prevention Act to recognize "the unique physical and hazardous work firefighters do to keep communities safe."

The changes set a mandatory retirement age of 60, however, "the changes only apply to salaried firefighters involved in frontline firefighting duties," stated a media release issued by the province at the time.

Longtin said he will decide in the coming days whether to fight his mandatory retirement through the Ontario Human Rights Commission or the courts. (Facebook)

Most municipalities have not extended the mandatory retirement to fire chiefs.

However, Renfrew Reeve Peter Emon said town council decided the fire chief is involved in "frontline firefighting duties" because the chief sometimes acts as an incident commander, which requires attending working fires and managing fire crews at the scene.

Emon disputed allegations the town's decision is ageist, arguing that the town consulted lawyers about extending the age restriction to the fire chief, and relied on legal precedents by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the Ontario Supreme Court.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruled in 2008 "incident command" can carry the same risks as regular firefighting even though it doesn't involve climbing ladders and running into burning buildings.

Emon confirmed Longtin has been offered a package to retire, and said council feels it met the obligations set out in its employment contract with Longtin.

Arnprior, Ont., hires 60-year-old

In neighbouring Arnprior, administrators have taken a different approach. The town hired a 60-year-old fire chief just last year.

The town's chief administrative officer, Michael Wildman, said a team of recruiters went through dozens of candidates and a multi-stage interview process to land on the current chief.

"By far, in our opinion, he was the stand-out candidate," Wildman said. 

"We feel we got the right guy here. We feel he brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge that we might not get in someone earlier on in their career."

Wildman said Arnprior interprets Ontario's age restriction as not applying to the chief, since in their view he is not a frontline firefighter even while working as an incident commander.