British Columbia

Crisis averted on B.C.'s Bowen Island as fire chief agrees to step aside

Bowen Island's 26 volunteer firefighters will not be resigning as planned after their unpopular new chief said he would step aside temporarily.

All 26 volunteers firefighters had threatened to resign if new chief wasn't removed

Bowen Island Mayor Gary Ander talks to community members outside municipal hall on Thursday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Bowen Island's 26 volunteer firefighters will not be resigning as planned after their unpopular new chief said he would step aside temporarily.

The firefighters had threatened to quit at 4 p.m. Thursday unless Chief Derek Dickson was removed from his role with the island municipality located a short ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay on Metro Vancouver's North Shore.

A few dozen people rallied at the Bowen Island municipal hall Thursday as the deadline fell. After a short conversation between a volunteer representative and Mayor Gary Ander, the mayor announced that the mass resignation was postponed.

He said the chief had agreed to step aside while a third-party arbitrator works through the disagreement.

"I think it'll be healthy for everyone involved to see where this process ends up," Ander said.

Mike Hartwick is representing Bowen Island's volunteer firefighters in their dispute with municipal hall. (Rafferty BAker/CBC)

The firefighters say they're relieved they won't have to quit, but they still have no plans to work under Dickson and will only be satisfied once he's gone.

"If we find these negotiations are going in a one-way direction, unfortunately we'll be back where we started and there'll be a mass resignations from the department," said Mike Hartwick, who speaks for the volunteers.

'Quite a culture' in the fire hall

Hartwick was reluctant to speak about the firefighters' complaints about Dickson, but told CBC he was "a horrible fit for the island" with "off-island ways of doing things."

On Friday morning, Hartwick said in an interview on CBC 's The Early Edition that the firefighters "uphold a certain amount of call volumes and a certain amount of training" and, as volunteers, it's tough when they're expected to do more than that.

He said many people were looking forward to Dickson coming to the island at first, but tensions began almost immediately after the new chief arrived.

Dickson started in the new role in July — the first time in about 65 years that the island's municipal government has gone outside the local fire hall to find a new chief, according to the mayor.

Ander told CBC earlier Thursday that there is "quite a culture" inside the fire hall and he'd expected some problems with the transition to a new chief. But he said he had no idea the clash would be so intense.

But Hartwick said the fire department has thrived by creating a family-like atmosphere that helps the volunteers work through the stressful and traumatic experiences they might have on the job.

One major sticking point was Dickson's insistence that the fire hall no longer be used for socializing.

"You remove the social aspect of a volunteer fire hall, you're taking the life out of a fire hall. That's what keeps it together, that's what allows us to discuss the things that we've done," Hartwick said.

Chief Derek Dickson insisted on removing a beer fridge from the fire hall. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

He acknowledged that Dickson had a beer fridge removed from the hall, but said that wasn't a surprise or the main sticking point.

 "You have a fire department that's been around for 50 years. It had some old-school ways within it that went away a long time ago," Hartwick said. "I think we carry ourselves with great professionalism." 

According to an Oct. 7 letter signed by the firefighters, they first raised their concerns about Dickson in August, and then did so again in September when they decided to end all practice and training sessions with the chief.

Municipal council voted on Sept. 30 to conduct an independent review of the fire department, beginning with the training requirements mandated by the province.

Read: Oct. 7 letter from firefighters

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Read: Oct. 9 response from Bowen Island mayor

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With files from Rafferty Baker and The Earlier Edition

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