UPDATE: Vernon ordered to re-hire fire department employees fired for sexual activity in chief's office | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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UPDATE: Vernon ordered to re-hire fire department employees fired for sexual activity in chief's office

Vernon Fire Department
March 19, 2019 - 11:54 AM

VERNON - The City of Vernon has been ordered to re-hire two fire department employees who were fired in March 2018 for engaging in sexual activity in the fire chief's office.

An arbitration panel decision March 15 ordered the City to reinstate the two dismissed staff, fire captain Brent Bond and dispatcher Cara-Leigh Manahan.

The two Vernon Fire Service employees were caught by a hidden surveillance camera - set up for different reasons - engaging in a "brief episode of consensual sexual activity" in the fire chief office in March 2018.

The footage was viewed the next day and both Bond and Manahan were interviewed separately later that day. The following afternoon both employees were dismissed for the sexual activity and the dishonesty in their interviews.

Manahan had worked at the fire hall since 2010, while Bond was hired in 1998. Bond joined the local union in 2000 and rose to become the Okanagan Vice President BC Professional Fire Fighters Board of Directors in 2012, a position he still holds.

The Vernon Professional Firefighters' Association IAFF LOCAL 1517 union argued the pair should not have been dismissed and instead received a four-month disciplinary suspension, with Bond also receiving a temporary demotion.

The panel ruled Bond should be reinstated effective from Feb. 1, 2019, with conditions, and he would not be compensated for loss of wages. Bond was paid $137,419 in 2017, including expenses.

The panel ruled Manahan to be reinstated without loss of seniority and receive compensation up until her position was contracted out and her employment would have been terminated. Manahan's salary in 2017 was $77,041.

Prior to the incident, Bond had also been suspended for three days and placed on a six-month performance improvement plan, after a firefighter complained the captain had bullied and harassed him in February 2017.

The arbitrator's decision states the Vernon Fire Rescue Services has been in a "turbulent period" in recent years. In August 2015 an independent review took place and reported in January 2016 allegations of bullying, intimidation and harassment in the Vernon Fire Rescue Services. Retired Delta Police Chief Jim Cessford was the called in to investigate.

The fire service hired Deputy Fire Chief David Lind in June 2016. The decision states Lind was told to be "cautious trusting union leadership" in his job interview.

Fire Chief Keith Green went on a leave of absence in September 2016 and Deputy Fire Chief Lawrie Skolrood resigned, followed by Deputy Chief Jack Blair who resigned in early 2017. Chief Green was let go in August 2018 and launched legal action against the City of Vernon Feb. 2019 arguing he is owed one year's salary for having been unfairly dismissed.

“I am most disappointed in the majority decision. It sends entirely the wrong message to Fire personnel across the country and to staff of the City of Vernon. It is not now and will never be acceptable or ethical for a direct supervisor to engage in a sexual relationship with junior and subordinate staff," City of Vernon chief administrative officer Will Pearce said in a media release.

The release states the decision by the arbitration board was not unanimous and the City is exploring a range of options regarding the decision.

Both Bond and Manahan were in separate marriages when they became intimate and each have two children. They told the arbitrator the relationship developed quite by accident. In early 2017 their friendship drew closer as Bond dealt with the complaint allegation and Manahan's husband was diagnosed with a serious illness, then realizing that Vernon was phasing out her job entirely. Bond also represented her and other employees for the union in that dispute.

Despite one eye witness who made uncorroborated sightings of the two hugging or kissing in the fire hall, they maintained their relationship, specifically any physical intimacy, was outside the fire hall, other than a few incidents of hugging or kissing and finally the recorded incident. Manahan called it “out of the blue, spontaneous”.

They told arbitrators it became a sexual relationship in late 2017. The relationship was also the subject of rumours around the fire hall by the fall of 2017.

While the arbitration decision understandably doesn't go into details, it appears the incident has impacted their lives. Before this incident Bond was married in 2002 and had two children.

"At the time of his dismissal, Mrs. Bond was a stay-at- home mother managing their investment property. That has changed since his dismissal."

— This story was updated with further details of the report at 11:55 a.m. March 19. 

Fired in March 2018, Vernon Fire Service captain Brent Bond has won an appeal to get his job back.
Fired in March 2018, Vernon Fire Service captain Brent Bond has won an appeal to get his job back.
Image Credit: Image Credit: BCFFA

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