The Grand Forks fire department is at the centre of a WorkSafeBC investigation, after a firefighter claimed he was bullied for bringing forward a number of safety concerns.
The volunteer firefighter, who spoke to Black Press Media on the condition of anonymity, said in a phone interview Wednesday that his concerns included the department’s failure to conduct annual tests for hose equipment and fitness tests for crews. Both are recommended as national standards, as hose material can degrade as it ages and annual fitness tests ensure members equipment is up to standards, specifically their self containing breathing seal.
The firefighter said he brought the matter to Fire Chief Dale Heriot’s attention via email in March, and the city’s chief administrative officer in April. He said the city hired an HR consultant to speak with him and any other firefighters willing to express safety or other concerns.
As the HR investigation went on, he said, tensions began to rise. He said he was excluded from fire calls and no longer scheduled for shifts. That’s when he made a report with WorkSafeBC.
“I asked the questions and I clearly struck a nerve,” he said.
The city’s deputy corporate officer, Kevin McKinnon, who is also a fire captain, confirmed the city had hired an external HR consultant, but did not provide further details.
“The city’s main objective has been to follow the necessary steps in accordance with City policies and guided by the HR consultant in order to conduct a fair, respectful, and thorough process,” McKinnon said in an emailed statement. “This matter is still under investigation and it is the city’s policy to not discuss personnel matters publicly.”
According to the WorkSafeBC inspection report, a prevention officer attended the fire hall on April 18 to investigate alleged bullying and harassment. The officer did not observe any violations during the visit, and requested the HR consultant’s findings by April 29.
It is not clear if the city provided the report by that time. According to emails obtained by Black Press Media, the report is with the city’s legal team.
McKinnon said the consultant’s report is expected to be presented at an in-camera council meeting in the coming weeks.
McKinnon confirmed that while the prevention officer was on site, several safety issues were identified, including the concerns initially brought forward by the firefighter.
He said that pressure tests on the fire hoses as well as hearing tests for the crew are underway, and that WorkSafeBC also ordered further tests of the face seals on each firefighter’s self-contained breathing apparatus.
Heriot did not respond to several requests for comment.
Mayor Brian Taylor declined to comment and referred all requests back to McKinnon.