The four regional district fire chiefs tasked with reviewing the circumstances surrounding a disciplinary matter that resulted in Winlaw Fire Department members withdrawing their services last summer have submitted their report.
In addition to a number of personnel-related recommendations specific to the parties involved, the committee recommended a review of the RDCK fire service bylaws and job descriptions and the establishment of a review committee for any future conflicts.
“The majority of the report deals with personnel issues associated with the individuals involved in that particular matter and I am not at liberty to discuss those,” chief administrator Brian Carruthers told 103.5 The Bridge. “The root of the issue is between two individuals and we will be dealing with those recommendations and circumstances internally.”
The conflict arose mid-August when Winlaw chief Jon Wollenberg was suspended for refusing to have his members provide traffic control during a large public meeting on the Lemon Creek jet fuel spill. Regional chief Terry Swan, who gave the order, cited insubordination and willingly disobeying a direct order.
Winlaw fire fighters walked off the job in support of chief Wollenberg who said his volunteers shouldn’t be ordered to duty in non-emergent situations. The suspension was revoked and the department returned to service after two days.
The RDCK board of directors has received a copy of the report and the Carruthers will be responsible for responding to the recommendations. He calls the peer review process a success.
“I think that the committee did an excellent job, very professional and objective in looking at the circumstances around this case and made some very sound recommendations,” said Carruthers.
The RDCK chose to inform the community about this internal matter despite not being able to reveal certain details because the conflict’s impact spilled out into the public arena.
“It was a fairly public event and many community members in Winlaw were affected by the withdrawal of that service… so we felt it prudent to let the community know we have in fact dealt with it and that we are making strides to move forward,” said Carruthers.
The work of this Review Committee will be used as a template for addressing similar issues in the future within the RDCK Fire Service which is comprised of 18 rural volunteer fire departments with a total of 355 volunteer fire fighters and first responders.
In addition to other recommendations, the completion of Fire Fighter Level 1 training by the members of the Winlaw Fire Department has been suggested.
“This is a standard of training the RDCK requires all its fire fighters to have and we’ve just been in the process with the 18 fire departments to get all our fire fighters up to that basic level of training,” said Carruthers.