Anarchist Mountain Fire Department represented by Fire Chief Urs Grob
Headline: Local fire chief concerned that RDOS bylaw changes being rushed, consultation poor and authority misdirected.
Editor’s note – this is an important issue and the letter is controversial. In order to cover its backside ODN is publishing the complete letter. But the article is abbreviated if you wish to move on.
“Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed RDOS Bylaw 2792 which is intended to replace Bylaw 2566, 2011. The 2017 consultant review and resulting Fire Master Plan did recommend an eventual amendment to the current bylaw in order to design a more structured and standardized Fire Service.
The Anarchist Mountain Fire Department (AMFD) supports the intent of the Fire Master Plan, but there are concerns regarding the new bylaw which must be addressed prior to its approval. It is anticipated there will be a joint approach to the re-drafting of the bylaw.
There is no apparent reason for the bylaw to be rushed through the approval process with minimal consultation with the Fire Chiefs. The new Fire Safety Act has not been passed by the Legislature, so the bylaw will have to be amended as soon as the Act comes into effect. Additionally, a RDOS Fire Service governance framework must be promulgated to the Fire Departments so the command and staff, and operational and bureaucratic responsibilities, accountabilities and liabilities are clearly identified.
Below are the major elements of the bylaw which should be addressed:
1. Paragraphs 6-7 state the Designated Officer will administer, oversee and manage the Fire Service. Not stated is whether any of the liability borne by the Fire Chief will now be attributed to the Designated Officer. The Fire Chief must have the flexibility to respond to the specific needs, circumstances and public interest of his community. For example, wildfires from lightning strikes and motor vehicles are more numerous and of greater risk to the Anarchist Mountain community than structure fires, so a significant amount of the limited training time
must be allocated to interface firefighting.
2. Paragraphs 13-16 read like the justification for the establishment of an additional RDOS staff position rather than the content and intent of a bylaw. The Designated Officer’s required qualifications, job description and Terms of Reference should be promulgated soonest and certainly prior to the submission for approval of the bylaw.
3. Paragraph 17 states ‘The Fire Chief shall report to the Designated Officer…, with such frequency and containing such detail as may be considered by the Designated Officer as necessary or appropriate’. This is an imperious statement and not appropriate in a bylaw.
4. Paragraph 18 – the phrase ‘ the IC may, in his or her sole discretion’ over-rides the authority of the Fire Chief who is operationally responsible.
5. Paragraph 19 states the Fire Chief shall have operational responsibility and authority over the Fire Department, subject to the administrative direction and control of the Designated Officer. Bylaw 2792 definitions do not outline the authority and liability of ‘administrative direction and control’. Bylaw 2566, 2011 gave ‘the Fire Chief complete operational responsibility and authority … subject to the administrative direction and control of the CAO, or his designate’. There is a definite shift in accountabilities which should be clearly defined in the bylaw.
6. Paragraph 21 – the second part of the sentence after ‘RDOS’ should be removed as ‘without limitation’ is officious and redundant.
7. Paragraphs 24-26. This bylaw changes the authorities in these paragraphs from the Fire Chief (Bylaw 2566) to the Incident Commander (IC), and could cause jurisdictional confusion at an incident. IC is defined in Bylaw 2792 paragraph 2 m (the second m which with corrected numbering should be r), but in a complex incident the IC may not be a member of the Fire Department. The Local Government Act 303, 2 states ‘The authority of the fire chief under a bylaw under subsection (1) may be exercised by a person under the authority of the fire chief …’. Therefore, the paragraphs should state ‘The Fire Chief or his designate’ or words to that effect to clarify that Fire Department personnel and resources remain under operational command of the Department.
8. Paragraph 40 is confusing. It states the ‘Designated Officer may enforce this bylaw’, yet the Fire
Chiefs ‘shall be responsible for the enforcement …’.
9. Paragraphs 47-50 Penalties. A bylaw gives legal stature to its directives, and anyone who contravenes the bylaw can be charged with a criminal offence. This bylaw has numerous statements outlining the authority of the Designated Officer over the Fire Chiefs. Technically these paragraphs could be applied to any Fire Chief who does not or cannot comply with the direction of the Designated Officer and therefore, a definite disincentive to accepting a Fire Chief position.
10. The Fire Master Plan agrees with the AMFD Establishment Bylaw which identifies the requirement for the RDOS to consult with the AMFD regarding the appointment of the Fire Chief. This consultation was a condition of the transfer of AMFD assets to the RDOS and thus, cannot be deleted from subsequent bylaws.
11. As an employer and the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), the RDOS clearly has supervisory responsibilities. However, the tone of this bylaw regarding the role of the Designated Officer is overly authoritarian and reads more like a Borg manifesto than the collaborative coordination relationship recommended in the Fire Master Plan. Most of the Plan’s recommendations included ‘… in consultation with the Fire Chiefs’. There are only two instances in the bylaw that indicate the Fire Chiefs may have input in the requirements and standards.
12. A bylaw provides legal guidelines for an organization, and is the foundation for subsequent expanding documents. There are numerous statements in this bylaw outlining the authority and tasks of the Designated Officer, many of which would be more appropriate in a Fire Service policy or standard operating procedure, and would thus, remove the Fire Chief’s legal liability and the potential penalties in a situation of poor job performance.
The small Anarchist Mountain community does not have the tax base or the expertise required to meet the career fire department standards stipulated in the Playbook, but member and community safety are always the AMFD’s first priority. The BC Community Charter 2 (b) states ‘ the Provincial government must not assign responsibilities to municipalities unless there is provision for resources required to fulfill the responsibilities’. It is reasonable to expect the intent of this statement must also apply to regional districts. The numerous responsibilities consigned to the AHJ are expensive, so the Province should provide the necessary resources and support to implement the Playbook.
The Fire Master Plan recommended the RDOS provide assistance to the Fire Departments, which could include streamlining the regulatory, training and administrative processes. For example, most of the retired members of the AMFD are highly educated and experienced leaders in industry and government services. Their knowledge and training should result in granted equivalencies towards qualifications for Officer and Chief positions. The Playbook training plans and exams require vast improvements to become useful tools, and on-line distributed learning is not available. As the AHJ, the RDOS has the power and influence to generate supportive action from the agencies that can produce these solutions to the problems and remove the barriers to success.
There must be significant changes to this bylaw before it can be endorsed by the AMFD. It is
recommended that Bylaw 2792 be held in abeyance pending a thorough consultation process and
endorsement by the Fire Chiefs, and the approval of the Fire Safety Act.”
(The letter will be discussed at the Regional Board table this Thursday)