We're making changes, says director of Yukon Wildland Fire Management in wake of audit

A draft audit report detailed how the government branch was susceptible to possible theft and mismanagement of funds. Mike Etches, the branch's director says 'we've made some pretty good progress' in addressing the problems.

'We've made some pretty good progress' with an action plan, says Mike Etches

Wildfires burning near the Dempster Highway in Yukon last June. An internal government audit found problems with organization and oversight at the Yukon Wildland Fire Management branch. (Yukon Wildland Fire Management)

The director of Yukon's Wildland Fire Management branch says several changes have been put in place, in response to an internal government audit that found problems with organization and oversight.

CBC obtained a copy of the draft audit report, which detailed how the government branch was susceptible to possible theft and mismanagement of funds.

According to Mike Etches, director of Wildland Fire Management, the branch has developed a plan, from the audit.

"We have an action plan spanning over about three years, and we've made some pretty good progress on the majority of those items," he said. 

For example, Etches says, inventory tracking and control has been beefed up. The audit found there was no way of knowing whether things like gear or fuel were being stolen.

The draft audit, obtained by CBC, found there was no way of knowing whether things like gear or fuel were being stolen from the branch. (CBC)

"We definitely jumped right away on some of the more important ones that we can address, and the fuel inventory one was a good example. 

"We implemented a fuel purchase protocol, did counts and spot checks throughout the territory this past summer, some restrictions on our inventory access, and did a review of our approval for the process of our overtime."

Etches says this past season, the branch used a new online system to track fuel sent to Dawson City, "our busiest area this summer."

He says the system allowed the branch to track the fuel, including when it was expected to go stale. That allowed the branch to save money by recycling fuel before it went stale.

"So that was an immediate improvement. Our staff worked really hard to make that happen this summer, despite being very busy up in the north."

Etches says there was no loss of fuel this year. The branch recycled "about 30 barrels" that were about to go stale, worth an estimated $18,000. He says in the past, the branch would pay about $300 per barrel to dispose of stale fuel.

Instead, this year's stale fuel was sent to the Department of Highways and Public Works to be used in waste-fuel furnaces.

Overtime, and outdated IT

Etches says stronger oversight is also now in place for firefighters' overtime, another area of concern for the auditors. Etches says there has always been an oversight authority.

"Our territorial duty officer has the task to match the alert levels with the crews' status, and authorize overtime. But we went back to an older protocol from 2007 and reviewed that and just made sure people were following the protocol."

He says much of the overtime is related to what's known as "exports" to other jurisdictions — when Yukon firefighters are sent to battle fires out of the territory — so the overtime costs there are recovered.

The audit also found that the branch's IT systems were outdated and mismatched, calling them a "software hairball." 

Etches says that wasn't a surprise.

"We have a number of legacy systems — older systems that we use in the Yukon — that we needed to look at and update. So we started that process this year, actually, before the fire season started."

He says the branch is also working on a strategic plan, and hopes to have it in place within a year.

"It's ready for the next steps, and we've been working that into an operational plan," he said.

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