Fire department update

Nov 5 2019
Updated: Nov 5 2019

November 5, 2019

Completion of Phase 2 of the Task Force process has been adjusted to November 25, 2019.

October 24, 2019

Bowen Island Municipality has received a letter from the Office of the Fire Commissioner of BC, summarizing discussions held during meetings on Wednesday, October 16th.

We have also received a copy of a letter that we understand the Volunteer Firefighters have provided to all households on the Island.  In the interest of continued transparency, we are posting this letter on our website.  However, we want to caution residents that some of the information in the letter may differ from other materials on the website.  Therefore, we encourage readers to consider this information in the context of the other materials that have been posted.


October 21, 2019

Phase 1 Recommendations from Task Force

The Task Force appointed by Bowen Island Municipality, consisting of Lisa Southern, Jessica Bowering and Lorne West, have provided their recommendations for Phase 1 of the Fire Department resolution process.

The Task Force met with representatives of Bowen Island Municipality and the Volunteer Firefighters on October 17, 2019. A tentative schedule was set to begin interviews on Monday, October 21.

The Task Force indicated that there are widely varying perspectives amongst the Phase 1 participants, and a perception that all information has not yet been heard or considered. The recommendation of the Task Force is to conduct an environmental scan to explore the issues more thoroughly. This would include interviewing all current Volunteer Firefighters, former Fire Chiefs, Fire Department members identified as “social” or “alumni” members, members of Council, members of the BIM Human Resources Committee, and members of the community with involvement in the issues of concern. It would also include a follow up interview with the Fire Chief.

Since that meeting, the Task Force and BIM have received correspondence from the Volunteer Firefighters that they wish to retain independent legal advice before proceeding.

As of the posting of this update, Monday, October 21, the Task Force is standing by to receive further correspondence from the Volunteer Firefighters and will be available to proceed as proposed within the Phase 1 Recommendations.

Attachments


October 16, 2019

Appointment of facilitators/mediators

Bowen Island Municipality has hired Southern Butler Price LLP, a well-known and respected law firm that focuses on workplace dispute resolution, to facilitate a process with the Fire Department membership. The membership has approved this appointment of Southern Butler Price.

Two members of the firm, Lisa Southern and Jessica Bowering, along with a well-respected expert in the fire service, Lorne West, will form a Task Force to conduct the process.  Details of their experience are noted below. The Task Force will begin its important work this week and has committed to ambitious timelines over the course of the next three weeks.

We support this initiative as a fair and balanced way to understand the issues within the Fire Department and achieve timely resolution. 

Lisa Southern

Lisa Southern has practiced law since 1997 and is a founding partner of the firm.  From 2003 – 2009 she was a Vice Chair and Registrar of the BC Labour Relations Board, is currently a member of the Judicial Compensation Committee, and since 2017, Lisa has worked as the Registrar for the BC Nurses’ Union and the Health Employers Association of BC, assisting them to resolve grievances efficiently and fairly. Her work as Registrar was noted in the report to the BC Minister of Labour: “Recommendations for Amendments to the Labour Relations Code” submitted August 31, 2018 (at page 29). 

Lisa has helped hundreds of parties in resolving workplace issues.  She is a well-respected mediator, facilitator, adjudicator and investigator.  In 2019, Lisa was nominated for a YWCA Women of Distinction Award in the category of business and the professions for her work in bringing an innovative approach to both resolving disputes, and the practice of labour law.  She is often asked to speak at conferences, most recently at the 2019 Annual Conference for the Association of Workplace Investigators in California.

Lisa will be the lead facilitator of the Task Force. 

Jessica Bowering

Jessica Bowering is a lawyer, investigator, and advisor with extensive experience resolving workplace issues across a wide variety of organizations. She is widely recognized for her practical, thoughtful, fair-minded, and creative approach to solving problems.  Jessica received her law degree from Dalhousie University in 2002.  Jessica worked in labour and employment law for over 10 years, first at a small union-side firm, and then in-house for two major health care unions.  Jessica has played a senior role in all aspects of bargaining and administering province-wide multi-employer collective agreements and is a skilled negotiator. This experience in managing diverse interests while maintaining constructive long-term relationships informs all aspects of her practice.

In 2015, Jessica moved to Alberta as an Assistant Deputy Minister in the Policy Coordination Office of Executive Council. She was promoted to Deputy Minister in 2016. Her office was responsible for coordinating work on the most complex legal and policy issues facing government.  She returned to BC in 2019 and is a key member of SBP.  She is also a member of the Bowen Island community.

Lorne West

Lorne West has worked as a consultant providing education and strategic guidance to both the fire service and fire fighters’ associations, as a panel member and a speaker.  He continues with this work since retiring in 2016, including being a guest lecturer to the UBC Sauder School of Business.  His 39 year career in the fire service included work as a BC forestry firefighter, and a volunteer fire fighter, career firefighter, Company Officer, Training Officer and Battalion Chief in the City of Surrey.  He led the cities response to the 2003 BC Wildfire event, coordinating structural suppression deployment.

He has developed and delivered curriculum with the Fire and Safety Division of the Justice Institute of BC, for Hazardous Materials Response, Incident Command, Recruit and Officer programs.  He has led a significant number of firefighter contract negotiations in first agreements and renewed agreements as well as representing firefighters during grievances, arbitrations and as an arbitration panel member.

As an Executive Board member of the International Association of Fire Fighters from 2004-2016 he was responsible for representing fire fighters in the Territories, BC, Alberta & Saskatchewan.  Lorne has chaired Provincial, National and International committees and initiatives, including as a Trustee for BC Federation of Labour, Canadian Labour Council-Canadian Council member and a member of the CLC Trade Union Caucus on International Labour Organization issues and delegate to the 2016 Tripartite Roundtable to ILO. He led the IAFF Global Alliance initiative to bring fire fighters’ Associations from around the world together, chairing the inaugural meeting and development of the International Fire Fighters’ Associations Alliance.  He chaired the IAFF Human Relations Committee ensuring the IAFF in both United States and Canada embrace diversity, led the IAFF  Chiefs Diversity Task Force to co-author, “Diversity in the Fire Service” and has been expert witness to BC Human Rights Tribunals. 

Lisa and Lorne have worked together previously on labour relations matters, and have used their respective expertise to assist parties in finding a resolve to their disputes.


October 15, 2019

Summary of last week's events and next steps

Last week, members of the volunteer fire department indicated to Bowen Island Municipality (BIM) that they would resign by Thursday, October 10, if Fire Chief Derek Dickson remained in his position.

Working with representatives of the volunteers, we reached an agreement to move forward as constructively as possible in these challenging circumstances.  Effective October 10, the Fire Chief offered to take vacation time in order to encourage a way forward with the Department membership. Bowen Island Municipality will appoint a facilitator approved by the membership, and will begin a mediation process. Meanwhile, the volunteer firefighters will remain on duty until recommendations from this process are brought forward. Deputy Fire Chief Aaron Hanen has assumed day-to-day operation of the Department for the time being.

We recognize the importance of the Department and the significant historical contributions of the volunteers within the Bowen community, and wish to achieve the following through a mediation process:

  • better understand the nature of the concerns raised
  • make sure the concerns of the volunteers are fairly and respectfully reviewed
  • work cooperatively and in good faith with the volunteers in ensuring that options for timely and effective resolution are fully explored
  • meet our obligations as an employer in maintaining a respectful workplace for staff and volunteers
  • rely on objective findings and legal advice if needed, in order to inform any decisions related to the Department

We have heard the concerns expressed by members of the Bowen Island community through correspondence to BIM, calls to and attendance at BIM, and on social media.  We recognize that some members of our community feel very strongly about this matter, and we encourage respectful engagement with one another and with BIM staff as we continue to take steps to resolve these concerns.

Office of the Fire Commissioner of BC

Bowen Island Municipality has been in contact with the Office of the Fire Commissioner to coordinate a meeting with the Fire Department members. Acting Fire Commissioner Jay Brownlee will be visiting Bowen Island on Wednesday, October 16th to meet with the membership. Mr. Brownlee and a representative of WorkSafe BC will be listening to any concerns from the members and answering questions about Provincial regulations and legislation related to firefighter operations and training.


October 10, 2019

Fire Chief Derek Dickson has offered to take vacation time, effective immediately, in order to encourage a way forward with the Fire Department membership.

“My first priority is the safety of our firefighters and the residents of our community. I will be taking a step back from operations for a time,” said Fire Chief Derek Dickson, “but I look forward to engaging further in this process with the membership in a facilitated environment.”

Deputy Fire Chief Aaron Hanen will assume day-to-day operations for the time being. The volunteer firefighter team will remain in their positions and the Fire Department will function as usual as of this time.

Bowen Island Municipality acknowledges that the current matter with the Fire Department is a difficult situation.

We are grateful for the commitment and services that have been provided to the residents and visitors of our community by our past and present volunteer firefighters.

We remain committed to providing a fair and due process to ensure that a resolution is achieved.


October 9, 2019

Response to October 7, 2019 Letter from Firefighters

Open letter to the Bowen Island Fire Department Volunteer Firefighters

Dear Member:

We write in response to the letter as attached (names redacted for privacy) dated October 7, 2019 and sent on behalf of volunteer firefighters.

We are deeply grateful for the commitment and services that have been provided to the residents and visitors of our community by our past and present volunteer firefighters. As a result, we are very concerned and disheartened by the notice provided on behalf of 26 volunteer firefighters in your October 7 letter about your intended resignation from Bowen’s Fire Department. 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. This ultimatum compromises our ability to meet our obligations related to the safety of the community and our obligations to our staff and volunteers.

As you know, our Fire Chief, Derek Dickson, was hired and began work on July 15, 2019 to ensure that BIM is able to uphold its responsibility to our community. We strongly support our Fire Chief in his mandate.
We are undoubtedly in a time of transition as our community invests further in our fire services and our Fire Chief was chosen carefully, in an inclusive process that involved our former Fire Chief and members of our community. He is exceptionally experienced and skilled and we are grateful to have him in this position and as a new member of our community. While you have acknowledged in your letter that there can be challenges with any transition, you have indicated that as a group you have made every effort to address those challenges. Respectfully, in the short time frames involved, it cannot be the case that we have exhausted reasonable efforts to move forward constructively.

By way of review, as you are aware, when issues were first raised with BIM formally by the firefighters on September 10, 2019, BIM acted quickly to arrange for a meeting for your representatives with BIM. Flowing from that, Council resolved on September 30, 2019 that an independent Core Service Review of the Fire Department would be undertaken that includes but is not limited to:

1. Assessing the capabilities of the department;
2. Confirming the level of service circumstances (currently exterior);
3. Determining the apparatus and equipment requirements;
4. Determining training requirements, cost and duration of training;
5. Evaluating fulfilment of Provincial training regulations;
6. Assessing compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act of BC and it accompanying regulations;
7. Reviewing current compensation methods
8. Reviewing the BC Fire Commissioner’s Inspection and Audit Checklists;
9. Review of the recommendations provided by the Fire Underwriter Survey (FUS).

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. The first phase will focus on training level requirements for volunteers as mandated by the Province. 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. As you are aware, our Fire Chief has implemented a schedule and has arranged for external assistance to provide training.

Although you have indicated that the firefighters met with the Fire Chief twice in August about your concerns, many of the firefighters ceased attending further practice and training sessions with the Fire Chief and refused our reasonable request that membership resume attendance at the training practices as set out by the Fire Chief pending the outcome of the Core Service Review.

To the extent that your concerns relate to operational issues we are confident that the information we receive from the Core Service Review will provide meaningful input into such matters and that it will assist in resolving any differences.

For any other concerns, we wish to support the membership and our Fire Chief in reaching a constructive resolution. Although some discussion has taken place to date, there has not been an opportunity to fully understand these matters. To that end, we will engage a third party neutral facilitator who can assist in building a more constructive working relationship within the Fire Department. This will take some time but we will commence this process immediately and communicate with you about the status of this process as it unfolds. We will also communicate directly with you regarding any interim measures that are put in place to support our staff and volunteers of the Fire Department.

In your letter of October 7 you have said that your concerns are fundamental to the operation of the Fire Department, that they are not reconcilable, and that the only remaining solution is to terminate the employment of the Fire Chief. We hope that this is a position you will reconsider as a group and as individuals who are committed to our community. Accordingly, we request that you each reconsider your decision to tender your resignation with trust that we will take further concrete steps going forward and so that we have time to meaningfully address these matters without resorting to a polar position that is fundamentally lacking in due or fair process.

As you are aware, part of the Core Services Review will include a review of current compensation methods. Currently, our Volunteer Firefighters receive payment of premiums for various benefits plans for themselves and their families. We understand that there have been rumours circulating that there were threats to end your access to benefits. We assure you this is not the case but of course, benefits flow with continuing service in the Department. As a gesture of goodwill, BIM will extend coverage for all of the Volunteer Firefighters for a three month period to the end of January 2020. For those who remain active with the Fire Department, your benefits will continue. For those of you who do not communicate your intention to continue in your role, this will afford you an opportunity to secure alternate coverage. For those of you who are undecided, it will give you some time to consider your options while we make further inroads to resolving differences and for the work of the Core Services Review and the facilitator to proceed.

We do note that some of our firefighters have already communicated their intention not to resign. Any of you who wish to continue in your role are requested to advise us as soon as possible and to resume your participation in further practice and training sessions in keeping with the schedule prepared by the Fire Chief. As we are committed to ongoing efforts to work constructively to resolve any issues of concern, those of you continuing with the Fire Department who wish to participate will each have an opportunity to meet with the facilitator at your option. We are in the process of engaging a facilitator and intend for meetings to commence next week.

As a priority, in the circumstances we have developed contingency plans in order to address our immediate needs and it would assist us for planning purposes to know as soon as possible from each of you as to whether or not you will continue in service of the community. We will need to hear from those of you who intend to continue by no later than 60 days. Please email mayorandcouncil@bimbc.ca directly regarding your intentions.
On behalf of our community we are extraordinarily grateful to each of you for your past service and we hope that we can move forward with continued good will for the benefit of our community.

Yours sincerely,

Mayor Gary Ander

Enclosures