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Fire Service Report released

Town of Qualicum Beach released edited version; The NEWS obtained its own, unedited copy and fills in the blanks

The NEWS has obtained an unedited version of the Fire Service Report made public by a motion of Qualicum Beach town council on April 8. When it released its edited version of the report on Wednesday afternoon, Town spokespersson Patricia Huntsman wrote: "The Town has severed personal information in accordance with its privacy obligations under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act."

Eight points in the 16-page review were removed from the report by the town before sending its version to The NEWS. Items omitted from the version of the Fire Service Report released by the Town of Qualicum Beach on Wednesday are as follows:

Under the summary findings section:

• There are four officers where there are concerns (e.g. safety practices; firefighter trust; treatment of firefighters; relationship with the Chief).

• The Fire Chief is seen to be unapproachable by some firefighters.

• Department members allege that there are differences in treatment depending on a firefighter’s relationship with the Fire Chief.

Under the survey results section:

• The Fire Chief is seen to use an authoritarian/directive management style. This is not well accepted by some firefighters and is a factor that directly or indirectly affects morale.

Under the impacts of low morale section:

• “Several officers cannot be trusted to be safe.”

Under the major recommendations section:

• The town should evaluate the performance and future of the fire chief.

• Assuming the fire chief remains in his role, he should improve his leadership and management skills through coaching, mentoring and courses.

Under the firefighter survey results section (exhibit 2):

• (Question number 10) The Fire Chief is an effective leader and manager. RATINGS (out of 10): Firefighters - 3; Officers - 6; Difference - 3.

The town’s edited version of the report is available at town hall. On Monday morning, The NEWS asked Mayor Teunis Westbroek four questions related to the report and he responded by e-mail

The NEWS: In general, what is your view on what specific action(s) the town, mayor and/or council should commence in reference to the 26 recommendations in the report?

Westbroek: “The Town is considering each of the recommendations in the report and will make decisions on next steps.  We look forward to opportunities to improve the Department, while continuing the Department’s record of providing excellent service to the community. The Town will accomplish this by working collaboratively with the Fire Department to prepare an action plan to address the recommendations in the report.”

The NEWS: Major Recommendation #1 was: “The town should evaluate the performance and future of the Fire Chief.” Our question is this: Has this been done to your satisfaction?

Westbroek: “The Town has a duty to not disclose any personal information including comments about individuals.”

The NEWS: Are you concerned that with the reinstatement of the chief that the department will lose members?

Westbroek: “I am always concerned about losing any volunteers but by taking action on the recommendations in the report, I trust that the volunteers will continue to serve the Department and the community as they have done so well in the past, as specifically acknowledged in the operation performance in the Fire Service Report (page 4):

• There has been excellent firefighter retention with few losses over the past two years.

• There are 15 firefighters with over 5 years of service.  Qualicum Beach residents are well served with a high proportion of very experienced firefighters.”

The NEWS: In light of several things written in the report (for example: “I come to an incident call and see who the officer in charge is. If the person is unsafe or hard to work with, I wait for the next truck.”), should the taxpayers of Qualicum Beach be concerned for their safety?

Westbroek: “No – the report also states that the Qualicum Beach Fire Department is very successful based on performance factors:

• Response times are running at 7.24 minutes (2012), which is very good for a paid on call fire service.

• The average number of firefighters responding to calls is 4.6, which again is very good.

• WorkSafe BC incidents have been very low.

• Firefighters are well trained with relatively high levels of certification (e.g. 17 NFPA 1041 fire service instructors at level I or II).

However, the Town recognizes the seriousness of the areas for improvement, such as morale, and the importance of working in-step with the Fire Department to address these concerns.”