All of Bowen Island's volunteer firefighters threatening to quit over dispute with fire chief

All 26 volunteer firefighters of the Bowen Island Fire Department have threatened to resign unless fire chief Derek Dickson, who started in his position July 15, is removed from his post.

All 26 volunteer firefighters of the Bowen Island Fire Department have threatened to resign unless fire chief Derek Dickson, who started in his position July 15, is removed from his post.

In a letter of “no confidence” members of the fire department delivered to the municipality on Oct. 7, the firefighters said that they met twice in August with the fire chief to discuss their concerns and then in September with the human resources department. 

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“Our concerns were highlighted by the decision to cease all further practice and training sessions with the fire chief,” reads the letter. “It was not a decision we took lightly but by that point we believed it was necessary to underline the importance of the issues we had raised.

The firefighters said in the letter that unless Dickson was removed by Thursday (Oct. 10) at 4 pm, the volunteers would all resign. All 26 volunteer members of the department, including the most recent past fire chief, Ian Thompson, signed the letter said spokesperson for the firefighters, Mike Hartwick. There are two paid members of the fire department besides the fire chief and they did not sign the letter said Hartwick. 

 

Bowen Island fire chief Derek Dickson
Bowen Island fire chief Derek Dickson - Bronwyn Beairsto / Bowen Island Undercurrent

A letter released in response to the firefighters’ letter, Mayor Gary Ander said that the municipality is “concerned and disheartened” by the notice.

“This is particularly so in the context of an ultimatum issued by the volunteer firefighters, on such a short timeframe, in the absence of a fair and due process related to the concerns you have raised, and in the context of emergency services that are vital in our community,” said the letter. “This ultimatum compromises our ability to meet our obligations related to the safety of the community and our obligations to our staff and volunteers.”

“We strongly support our Fire Chief in his mandate,” wrote Ander. 

In a closed council meeting Sept. 30, council resolved to undertake an independent core service review. 

“Our intention with the review is to hire professional independent consultants specializing in fire department service reviews and to have the review completed in phases,” said Ander in the letter. 

“The first phase will focus on training level requirements for volunteers as mandated by the Province,” wrote Ander. “Although we do not doubt that our firefighters are committed to providing professional and effective services and collectively have significant experience, we need to be able to establish objectively that we are meeting the provincially mandated standards. We are not currently able to do so.

“This requires for example, that we maintain a training plan and actively identify and centrally track the training of each of our members. A failure to do so could result in safety issues for our firefighters and community members and have serious implications for BIM’s liability and some homeowner’s insurance. It is simply not tenable for training to be conducted in any other manner.” 

Ander said that the core services review would include compensation methods.

The firefighters’ letter references an Oct. 1 letter from the municipality. “Indeed, we were taken aback by the suggestion that the ‘first phase’ of a proposed independent ‘review’ would focus on ‘training level requirements for volunteers.”

“The volunteer firefighters of Bowen Island are committed to providing professional and effective services to all residents and visitors of our community,” said the letter. “Collectively we represent over 300 years of firefighting experience on Bowen Island.”

Ander said in his letter that the municipality will hire a “third party neutral facilitator,” with the intention that meetings begin next week. He said he hopes the firefighters will reconsider tendering their resignations. 

Hartwick has been a volunteer firefighter for close to 10 years, is a former paramedic of 15 years on-island and has lived on Bowen for more than 40 years. He is acting as a spokesperson for the firefighters.

Bowen Island Municipality's volunteer fire department.
Bowen Island Municipality's volunteer firefighters. - Bowen Island Municipality

“This is about a poor fit in the hall unfortunately that has happened,” he said. 

Hartwick wouldn’t get into the details of the conflict between the fire chief and volunteers due to legal concerns.

“We’d love to sit there and just tell them every single reason why, but it would be hard without talking to a lawyer or something to make sure that we didn’t hurt ourselves,” he said “That’s the only reason why we haven’t brought this up, we’ve been so scared.

“For us to come up with this decision, it was not an easy thing to have 26 members, all them to decide,” said Hartwick. “They’ve given us nothing else to do but do this.”

“Twenty-six members of this community aren’t just making something up or it’s not about a single little thing,” said Hartwick. “For us to come up with this conclusion is a horrible thought for us as well.

“Come Thursday, four o’clock, we’re going to be residents without a fire department as well. And sure as hell, I’m going to be very verbal about it, because I’m a taxpayer too, where’s my fire department?”

“I think it comes down again to how we feel disrespected from them,” said Hartwick. 

Ander said in his letter that some firefighters have communicated their intention not to resign. Hartwick said that the firefighters stand behind their earlier commitment to all resign. 

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