The chair of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen says she fears support for the region’s seven fire departments is worse than it was two years ago.
“I just fear we’ve gotten worse and the current situation is less support than it was two years ago and if it carries on this way, there is no support,” said Karla Kozakevich, director for Area E (Naramata) and the chair of the board.
Kozakevich made those comments during the recent board meeting where the issue of the fire departments and how they manage human resources, records management and financial obligations was discussed.
Issues surrounding installing a single regulatory bylaw for the RDOS’ seven fire departments (Tulameen, Keremeos, Kaleden, Okanagan Falls, Narmata, Anarchist Mountain and Willowbrook) came to a head last April.
At that time, after much debate with directors, and dissent from several of the fire chiefs, the board chose to abandon one regulatory bylaw for all departments, opting instead to have seven bylaws. The decision means the chiefs are direct employees of the board, instead of reporting to CAO or other senior staff, and in charge of their own administration, records management and human resources. It also meant elimination of the position of emergency services supervisor, which was tasked with helping behind the scenes operations of the fire departments.
Kozakevich said since April she’s been asked to help fire chiefs in administration and other duties that she is not qualified to do.
“In my opinion our current system is not working. It’s not working for me, it’s been eight months since we repealed 2566 (the one regulatory bylaw). I’m not a manager of fire departments and I’m not a human resources manager, so they’re coming to me to try and help them with their needs. I know the board as a whole is their bosses and it’s not just me, but it’s all coming to me,” she said.
Directors heard at the meeting the firefighters association, which includes chiefs from all departments but Tulameen, was working on drafting their own regulatory bylaw, but it continues to lack legal components. The chiefs’ bylaw is currently waiting to be reviewed by lawyers. It’s been sent back several times for legal reasons.
Several directors asked if a chiefs’ representative could sit with a lawyer to hammer out the legal requirements of the bylaw.
Bill Newell, CAO of the RDOS, said that could be an option.
Mark Pendergraft, director for Area A (Rural Osoyoos), said issues of human resources, and administration are not new and predate the provincial playbook which tightened regulations on fire departments.
“Don’t for a minute think this is the result of last year’s decisions. These policies are three, four, five years old … We didn’t give support when it was needed. The problem is a lack of trust,” he said.
Newell said support has not been adequate in the past.
“In my mind they don’t need support from someone who knows how to run a fire department, how to run a fire. They know how to run a fire ground. Where we’ve let them down in the past is the support we’ve offered them as far as administrative support, as far as records management, human resource management. They know how to fight a fire. They don’t need our assistance on that,” he said.
Bob Coyne who represents Area H (Rural Princeton/Tulameen) has been outspoken about being against the chiefs’ reporting directly to the board, saying the Tulameen chief is in support of one regulatory bylaw.
“My fire department isn’t involved in any of this stuff going on and Tulameen should not be paying for these other people to sit out and argue. As far as I’m concerned this whole thing has been disastrous. We have to at some point acknowledge that people in the fire department are our employees and that we have to be in charge of those people,” he said.
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