Disciplinary action against a Keremeos firefighter has resulted in some dissension in the ranks of the local volunteer fire brigade.
In a telephone conversation to the Review last Friday, former Keremeos volunteer firefighter Doug MacLeod went public with his side of the story in an attempt to quash a number of rumours circulating around the village surrounding the circumstances of his departure.
“On March 25, I was called into an executive meeting of the firehall,” the 18 year veteran explained. “They presented to me an offer – for me to take voluntary retirement, or be served with a letter of termination. I was given five minutes to decide.”
MacLeod said that the termination was presented for “failing to take the directions of his superiors” and for “ not following the chain of command.”
“I asked for more time to decide what I wanted to do, but none was given,” MacLeod said, after which he was asked to turn in his pager and radio.
“ I have had conflicts with the chief, the assistant chief and with RDOS staff,” MacLeod explained, “ All of whom are intelligent people. They must have had just cause – however, I believe my issues were for the betterment of the service, and the safety of the crew.”
MacLeod was taken completely by surprise by the termination, noting that only a week before he had been given support by members of the executive.
“ I knew we had some conflict, but getting fired was a complete surprise,” he said, concluding that his years with the fire service had been fulfilling.
“I have enjoyed my time with KVFD, have the utmost respect and admiration for the members of the KVFD and appreciate the support of the residents of the area through my time as a firefighter,” MacLeod said.
The circumstances surrounding MacLeod’s dismissal from the fire department has resulted in some controversy amongst the members, resulting in the resignation of up to four veteran firefighters.
“I resigned because I do not agree with the direction of the KVFD executive,” fifteen year veteran Bob Thurston told the Review. Thurston said that at least two members resigned immediately following a firehall meeting last week.
“The way they ( the executive) went about it (MacLeod’s dismissal) was totally wrong.”
At least some of the controversy over the firing is related to issues of trust on behalf of the executive, with some members feeling that they were misled over policy changes being implemented at the department.
“I was contemplating leaving anyway, but this is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said 21 year Keremeos veteran Jeremy Evans.
“It’s becoming too much like a dictatorship – they (executive and regional district staff) wouldn’t tell the members why MacLeod was dismissed – we have a society that governs our operation and there are rules.
He was fired and stripped of his honourary status. That was it for me. In the old days this wouldn’t have happened.
The regional district calls us employees now. We aren’t volunteers anymore, apparently, but do we get the same benefits as regional district employees? No. They talk about us keeping fit, having firefighters in good shape – I’ve been pushing for something like a free pass to the rec centre for years, but they are unable to even do that.
At the meeting last week, I felt that the executive was lying to the members, and the lack of respect for MacLeod was unbelievable. It was a personal thing.”
Last fall, the regional district began implementing policy that would see all the fire departments under the regional district’s umbrella begin to adopt standardized procedures for administration and operation of the district’s seven fire departments. The move has been regarded suspiciously by several firefighters in the district, (more so by long service ones), who feel that the regional district is “taking over” what was once a community based, volunteer run organization.
Regional district Emergency Services Supervisor Dale Kronebusch sympathized with those who felt that the community basis for local fire departments was being lost, explaining that when the departments began collecting their budgets through taxation, they began to operate under regional district bylaws.
“With the change to a taxation department, there was no transfer of that particular thought process,” he said.
“As societies, the fire departments in the past have voted in their executive, and in the process, disipline often went sideways,” Kronebusch explained.
“It became a popularity contest, where the chief continued to get in as long as the members liked him, as opposed to him doing what was necessary. As a result, things like discipline – which could affect his popularity – often went lacking.”
Kronebusch acknowledged the need for the regional district to respect the members decsions as well, pointing out the fact that a chief or an executive that didn’t have the support of the firefighters wouldn’t work that well, either.
“We have to respect the fire chiefs and back up the issues they have,” Kronebusch added.
“We reviewed the history of the matter and made a decision on behalf of the best interests of the fire department. We looked at possible options for dealing with the issue, which was basically labour related.
Fire departments are not run as democracies – the chain of command must be adhered to, or what have you got?”
Kronebusch understood that MacLeod’s motivation might very well have been well intentioned, but a history of challenging the fire department’s methods had a dangerous and disruptive effect on the operation, and had to be dealt with.
“I understand the changes (in administrative policy) have offended some, but it simply had to be done to look after liability issues,” stated Keremeos Chief Jordy Boscha.
“We are putting together a process so that everyone is protected down the road – these changes are not new to the department, they have been discussed for some time – no one should have been surprised by this.”