Vancouver firefighters claim fire chief putting public safety at risk

Vancouver firefighters are asking Mayor Gregor Robertson to look into their leadership, after Fire Chief John McKearney temporarily took a fire truck out of service.

Mayor says he has full confidence in Fire Chief John McKearney's decisions

Vancouver firefighters sent this image to the media after their medical fire truck was removed from service temporarily due to staffing decisions. (Vancouver Fire Fighters IAFF Local 18)

Vancouver firefighters are calling on Mayor Gregor Robertson to look into their leadership, after Fire Chief John McKearney temporarily took a medical fire truck in Kitsilano out of service over the weekend.

Robert Weeks, the president of the firefighters' union, said McKearney told staff to remove the truck from service on Friday when a firefighter called in sick and again on Sunday when another firefighter was injured.

"Instead of the usual practice of calling another firefighter in to replace that person, they took this rig out of service," said Weeks.

"That's the first time we've lost this apparatus ... Without that second piece of apparatus, our ability to effect a rescue in a timely manner is compromised."

Firefighters are currently in contract negotiations with the city, but Weeks insists their dispute with the fire chief has nothing to do with bargaining. 

In surveys, said Weeks, firefighters have repeatedly expressed no confidence in McKearney, giving his leadership a score of only six per cent in a survey in 2013 and again in 2015.

"In our view and our membership's view it's time for him to move on," said Weeks. "That flows from a lack of confidence from the men and women in this fire department in his ability to manage public safety." 

"We are hopeful that Mayor Robertson and Vancouver city council will address the situation at Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services and issue directions that will provide for the safety of citizens and firefighters."

'Full confidence'

In a statement, Mayor Gregor Robertson said public safety is city council's top priority and they are always looking for ways to improve emergency response.

But, he said, the leadership has his full support.

"As mayor, I have full confidence in the operational decision-making of Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services and its leadership, and immense respect for the work that all Vancouver firefighters do every day to make our city an even safer place to live."

Robertson said the city has invested $78 million in firefighting capital projects, including firehalls, new trucks and new boats, as well as increasing the operating budget to $117 million in 2016.

"We will continue our work to ensure first responders have the resources they need to fully protect our city."

'Troubling trend'

Meanwhile, Weeks says the city has ignored the advice of its own 2009 review, which recommended increasing the number of rescue trucks and firehalls.

The removal of the truck this weekend is just part of a trend of resources being taken out of the west side, he says, adding they've also lost a truck out of Kerrisdale and had to reduce staffing.

"It's a troubling trend for us, of losing resources in a time when this city is growing fast, rapidly and needs its fire resources.

"[The study called Kitsilano] high risk for both medical and fire response, and at that time we actually had eight firefighters total.

"Since 2009, they've downsized to a four-firefighter apparatus and a two-firefighter apparatus — and now this weekend we lost that, a critical unit in response."

Weeks said although no incidents occurred for which they needed their second truck, it reduced the team's medical capability.

"There has been no explanation. I'm not sure what the explanation could be. I can tell you, it's certainly not with public safety in mind."

Fire Chief John McKearney was not available for comment.


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