British Columbia

Bowen Island's embattled fire chief to retire

The unpopular chief of the Bowen Island volunteer fire department, who has been on paid leave since October when he faced a revolt from all 26 volunteers, is planning to retire at the end of January.

Chief Derek Dickson on leave since entire volunteer department threatened to quit

Bowen Island's volunteer firefighters objected to the new chief's ideas about training requirements and socializing at the fire hall. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The unpopular chief of the Bowen Island volunteer fire department, who has been on paid leave since October when he faced a revolt from all 26 volunteers, is planning to retire at the end of January, according the municipality.

Chief Derek Dickson was hired in July, and soon clashed with the firefighters under his command. He had previously served as fire captain with the nearby District of North Vancouver. 

In early October, the entire 26-person volunteer team threatened to quit if Dickson wasn't fired.

Municipal officials, including Mayor Gary Ander, backed Dickson and declined to force him out, leading to a standoff with the volunteers that was finally quelled moments before the firefighters' deadline when the chief agreed to temporarily step aside.

Bowen Island Mayor Gary Ander talks to community members outside municipal hall on Thursday, Oct. 10, as a the volunteers' deadline to fire their chief quickly approached. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

On Thursday, the municipality announced Dickson's decision to retire, saying in a written statement, "We sincerely thank Chief Dickson for taking this step."

Dennis Back, interim chief administrative officer of Bowen Island Municipality said a new report — which has not yet been made public — concluded there was no cause for Dickson's termination, but that the department would benefit from new leadership.

"He's realizing that the situation is such that him returning to the job maybe wasn't the best for him or for the organization," said Back.

"We're definitely looking to move to a position in the near future where ... peace is restored and things are working smoothly again," he said.

Back said the deputy chief — whose position is one of three paid roles at the department — would continue to lead the firefighters until a new chief is hired. The search for Dickson's successor will begin in the coming weeks, said Back.

In October, firefighter Mike Hartwick told CBC News that Dickson was a "horrible fit for the island" with " off-island ways of doing things."

In letters between firefighters and the municipality at the time, training requirements and record-keeping were a central issues in the dispute, but department culture and socializing at the fire hall also appeared to be a factor. Dickson had limited the types of activities that could take place at the hall.

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

"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 in October.

Hartwick, who couldn't be reached for comment on Thursday, has said that despite "old-school ways" within the department, the volunteers carry themselves with "great professionalism."

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Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at


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