Regional district directors agree to take second look at fire department regulatory process - InfoNews

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Regional district directors agree to take second look at fire department regulatory process

April 05, 2018 - 5:06 PM

PENTICTON - The regional district’s protective services committee agreed to back away from the district’s present course in regulating its fire departments following a committee meeting today.

The committee agreed to repeal a seven-year-old bylaw that was intended to centralize administration of the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen’s seven fire departments, but failed to gain the favour of the district’s fire chiefs.

The board had also recently been working on an updated fire administration bylaw, which will likely also be scuttled following this afternoon’s discussion.

The issue appeared to come down to one of respect for the district’s volunteers, as several directors voiced concerns the chiefs had been left out of the decision making process, which Osoyoos rural director Mark Pendergraft referred to as “a big club."

"We’re not dealing with a normal corporate structure, in terms most of the firefighters are volunteers. It’s a difficult situation, if you lose volunteers, or have a morale problem in the fire departments... I think we have a duty to listen to them," Summerland director Peter Waterman said.

Naramata director Karla Kozackevich agreed, calling the district’s firefighters a mix of both volunteer and paid positions. She also noted feedback from the various departments indicated unhappiness with the present legislation.

Princeton rural director Bob Coyne wasn’t so sympathetic, disagreeing with the motion to repeal the bylaw.

“We voted to unify the departments and we were elected to make decisions. I’ve never worked in any place where the employees dictated to management how to run the organization. Without this bylaw, I believe that’s what we are doing,” Coyne said.

Penticton director Judy Sentes agreed, noting the board was elected to make decisions.

Chief administrative officer Bill Newell corrected some board members who confused the issue of operational control with those of standardized training requirements, outlined in the Playbook, a minimum training standard decreed by the province in 2014.

West Bench director Michael Brydon expressed concerns over liability issues, stemming from a lack of centralized regulation.

“Who’s on the hook?” he asked.

“You are. Fire departments aren’t entities by themselves,” Newell said, adding the regional district would be held liable.

“What we’re talking about here is not necessarily all going in a new direction with individual departments going back to their own identity and their own history,” Okanagan Falls director Tom Siddon said.

"Volunteering doesn’t mean you don’t get paid - it means you’re volunteering time to in the middle of the night to take your life in your hands and risk to save someone else’s property, and going to the fire hall every week to practice. It means you’re giving voluntarily, to the community you live in. We have to respect that, and not say, ‘we know better’ down here,” Siddon said.

"There’s something not working right in the gelling of the relationship between the chiefs, their members and our staff. We shouldn’t rush this. It might be something much simpler than we think,” he said.

The committee agreed to repeal the bylaw at the next regional board meeting on April 19. The regional fire departments would then go back to working with their individual regulatory bylaws while a new process begins to either amend existing legislation or find a new way forward.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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