No successor yet for retiring, long-serving South Okanagan fire chief

Darlene Bailey's 43 years of service as a Kaleden firefighter has come to an end with her retirement as fire chief.

PENTICTON - A South Okanagan firehall faces some challenges following the retirement of its long-serving fire chief last week.

Kaleden Volunteer Fire Department is one of many small rural community fire departments facing similar issues of increasing training and procedural requirements, and a diminishing volunteer base from which to find people with the available time to fulfill leadership duties.

Kaleden fire chief Darlene Bailey spent 43 years with the department; 26 of them as fire chief.

With her retirement, no clear successor has stepped forward, although deputy chief Dennis Gaudry has offered to fill the role in the interim.

“I was handed the reins the same way, taking the job as an interim thing. That’s the way it starts,” Bailey laughs.

The Regional District is advertising for the position, outlining in several paragraphs the duties required, but with no mention of compensation.

“I’ve had one phone call about it, from a battalion chief who is planning to retire to the Okanagan. He was fine about the position until he asked me about wages. When I told him my position pays just short of $10,000, he asked me if that was monthly,” she says. "He couldn’t believe that was my annual wage."

Bailey feels the new chief will have to come from the community somehow.

“Any increase in the cost for the position will be paid for by the taxpayers of the community,” she says.

Bailey says the Regional District sets the wages for the fire chief position based on call volumes, but the expectation is the department will be trained and maintained the same way, no matter how busy or how large the department is, and documentation is a huge task today compared to a couple of decades ago.

Bailey says the high points in her lengthy service in Kaleden include the purchase and upgrades fire trucks, overseeing an addition to the fire hall, and the steady improvement in training and standards.

“The St. Andrews golf course clubhouse fire in 1994 was probably the most memorable structure fire. Structure fires and deaths from motor vehicle collisions are the incidents that keep coming back to mind,” she says.

Balley says she is looking forward to an adjustment to her lifestyle.

“There’s stuff I’ve been wanting to do, things I’ve been wanting to do better, like gardening. I have time for that now.”


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