Were Dawson firefighters using unsafe equipment? Depends who you ask

A recent inspection by the Yukon Fire Marshall's Office found faulty breathing apparatus units at the Dawson fire hall. Another inspection by occupational health and safety officers found no problems with the units.

Inspectors find no problems with breathing apparatus units, despite Fire Marshall's warning

Firefighters respond to a house fire in Dawson City in May, 2014. (courtesy Bryan Sporer)

Was the safety of Dawson City's volunteer firefighters at risk from faulty equipment?

That's the question left hanging after two separate inspections of some firefighting gear in Dawson —specifically, self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs) — came to different conclusions.

Last month, the Yukon Fire Marshall's Office (FMO) issued a damning inspection report on the state of the town's fire department. It said each SCBA was tested, sometime between April and June, and failed.

In mid-June, the Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board did its own inspection of the fire department and issued 14 health and safety orders — but none of them involved the SCBAs. The board's inspection found no problems with those.

The 14 orders focused on improperly stored materials, housekeeping and maintenance problems.

Missing reports 'a very real concern'

The FMO report last spring painted a more troubling picture of the department. Besides faulty equipment, the FMO pointed to some major problems with record-keeping  poor training records, incomplete or missing inspection records for safety equipment and public buildings, and missing fire and incident reports. 

"The absence of incident and fire reports is of a very real concern," the FMO report says.

The Dawson City fire hall. A report from the Yukon Fire Marshall's Office last month raised concerns with 'the absence of any clear and regular record keeping' by the local fire department.

"Should one of your firefighters fall ill, there will be no way for the city to correlate any health issues with their presence at a firefighting incident."

The FMO report was not officially made public, and nobody from the office has agreed to speak to CBC about it. The Yukon government says the FMO is merely an advisory body that was invited by the town of Dawson to do the inspection.

It's up to the town to decide how to respond, the government said.

Town officials, though, have also been tight-lipped about the controversy.

But one 40-year veteran of the Dawson fire department has been willing to speak out, and dismiss the FMO's concerns. Gerry Crayford says the department sent four of the units that the Fire Marshal's office found faulty to a certification centre in Vancouver and it said the units were safe to use.

He adds the department has done its paperwork, and fire chief Jim Regimbal ultimately proved it by producing the documents.

"They were kind of saying there was nothing up to 2007, and he had inspections right up to 2015," Crayford said. 

"If all the parties involved could've just sat down and talked it out, they would've found out that things are working well."

With files from Dave Croft and Vic Istchenko