Volunteer Fire Department Members Deserve Better

It was with dismay that I read your articles saying that some RDOS managed fire departments failed to pass a recent safety audit.

To the Editor:

It was with dismay that I read your articles saying that some Regional District Okanagan Similkameen managed fire departments failed to pass a recent safety audit.

Most concerning to me were the statements by senior RDOS management downplaying the failure as “paperwork” issues “due to a change in audit scoring guidelines”.

Our volunteer fire fighters are special people that provide a critical service and deserve a higher level of leadership than the audit failure and these comments indicate they currently have.

These safety audits are not onerous. They review and assess whether management is providing a safe workplace. A basic health and safety program uses the paperwork as checklists to ensure all legal and moral requirements to provide a safe workplace are completed so all firefighters can go home healthy and well after every call out. It is a requirement of the Worksafe BC Act and regulations to have an adequate functioning safety program. Non-compliance can be costly, especially if the lack of a program causes or contributes to a worker injury or death.

When paged out fire department members drop what they are doing, leaving work and family to enter into often dangerous, chaotic, horrific, tragic situations. They then return to their regular work and family and try to carry on normal lives. The number, variety and length of calls have increased dramatically over the last decade.

Volunteer fire fighters receive only minimal financial remuneration for their time and they pay income tax on the stipend they do receive.

Despite the danger involved, and the critical service they provide, volunteer fire fighters do not receive many of the basic protections or benefits provided to regular workers by employment standards regulations or other employee programs. There have also been problems recently with self employed fire fighters suffering financial hardship after being injured during fire department activities.

Now we find out these folks are not provided a safety program that meets even the basic standard.

The Keremeos Volunteer Fire Department used to have a dedicated Safety Officer position but the RDOS eliminated it some years ago. Any firefighter bringing ongoing safety issues forward were dealt with in a knee jerk and arbitrary manner that led to conflict and further problems.

The safety audit failure, the RDOS response to the failure and other recent issues involving our volunteer fire departments makes me doubt if some senior fire department supervisors and RDOS managers are as committed to the well being of responders as they should be.

In my opinion our volunteer fire fighters deserve better.

Doug MacLeod,