John Kobarda retires as London fire chief 'effective immediately'
27-year veteran leaves with department facing complaints about workplace harassment
A week after it hired a third-party investigator to examine workplace harassment at city hall, the City of London announced the retirement of Fire Chief John Kobarda with no warning, no fanfare and no glowing words, just that it was 'effective immediately.'
The unceremonious end to Kobarda's 14-year tenure as the man at the helm of the city's fire department came in the form of a news release on Monday that was a mere five lines long.
I'm actually surprised they didn't fire him.- John Hassan, former president of the London Professional Firefighters Association
The London Professional Firefighters Association, the union that represents firefighters, posted a statement on its Facebook page that said it would neither comment on the timing nor the circumstances of Kobarda's sudden departure.
"We choose rather to focus on moving forward and making every effort to effect change where there needs to be change, and to work together with the management leadership team to make improvements where we can, and to continue to preserve and protect a safe and supportive work environment for our employees," it said.
'Culture of fear'
"I'm actually surprised they didn't fire him," said John Hassan, a former president of the London Professional Firefighters Association and a veteran of the city's fire service, who retired with the rank of Captain in 2016.
"In my opinion, he should have been fired, as well as a bunch of other people," he said. "I'm happy for the department that there's going to be a change and I hope it's the first of many changes that signal a change in the style of leadership, getting some actual leadership and recognizing the people that I used to work with ought to be supported not bullied, belittled and harassed."
He virtually locked himself in his office for 12 to 16 hours a day and was never seen by anybody.- Dave Walmsley
In the last week, a number of firefighters have complained to the media about a "culture of fear" that has permeated the city's fire department and languished for years.
One, where those who speak out about mistreatment of others are often mistreated themselves, with many firefighters reportedly being punished for standing up for their colleagues who were being bullied on the job.
'A fire chief who's been absent'
"What we've had under Chief Kobarda is really a fire chief who's been absent," said Platoon Chief Dave Walmsley, a London firefighter with 37 years experience on the job who has seen a number of chiefs come and go.
"He virtually locked himself in his office for 12 to 16 hours a day and was never seen by anybody," he said. "He didn't have our back.
"What we would like in a new fire chief is a person who recognizes the role of a fire chief is more than simply number crunching."
However, Walmsley said that change will likely not come overnight.
"Just because Chief Kobarda has now retired and has left the department does not mean that everything suddenly changes," he said.
"There are still questions that need answers. Stories out there that need to be looked into to just find out how high up the food chain this type of attitude goes."
'I'm frankly delighted at the news'
Lori Hamer will serve as acting chief while a recruitment process begins.
Kobarda's unceremonious retirement comes less than a week after the city announced an independent "top-to-bottom" review of the city's harassment policy.
Last week CBC News learned that 68 people have come forward to the London Abused Women's Centre in the last week complaining of a culture of fear in city departments.
"I'm frankly very delighted at the news," said London Abused Women's Centre Megan Walker Monday. "And, based on the number of phone calls we've received, a number of employees of the fire service are also delighted."
"There's been a lot of horrendous things that have happened over a long period of time," she said.
"I think it's very positive for the fire department and the employees of the fire department. I feel confident that this is one step in many steps that need to be taken to change the toxic workplace into one that makes employees feel safe and valued at," she said.