City manager defends fire chief
I have read with interest some of the comments and letters written about the City’s hiring of a second Deputy Fire Chief. I have been interested to see the comments because often times when members of our community write, they have brilliant ideas and cogent arguments that serve the community well. It is this reason that Council goes to considerable lengths to present its annual budget for public review and discussion and input. For example Council presented its proposed budget in February of this year to the community. I don’t know if the letter writers opposing the second Deputy Fire Chief attended. But the establishment of the second Deputy Fire Chief position was clearly addressed as an objective of Council during the budget presentation. It was a decision of Council – certainly not a decision of the Fire Chief. The second Deputy Fire Chief position has been the subject of newspaper articles (Castlegar News – Feb. 19, 2013, Castlegar Source – March 13, 2013, Castlegar News – June 22, 2013). So the hiring of a second Deputy Fire Chief should hardly come as a surprise now.
More importantly is the reason why Council agreed to the new position. Frankly our great community has been depending significantly on two men to maintain the emergency watch over our community 7 days a week/24 hours a day for years. This means that every second week either the Chief or the Deputy Fire Chief works a regular 8 hour work day then goes home, has dinner and remains available through the entire night to respond to an emergency in our community. More often than not (i.e. 2 or 3 nights a week), they are awoken at 1:30 or 2:30 or 3:30 in the morning from their sleep to race out of their homes and deal with fires or injured motor vehicle drivers and passengers or assist when someone’s father or grandmother or family member is having a medical emergency such as a stroke or heart attack. Two men … and two men only, have been shouldering this responsibility. Two men have been answering our community’s call, week on and week off in our community for years. And when they finish directing our committed and highly trained volunteers in potentially life threatening situations and dealing with distraught family members or injured and screaming victims or worse, with dead members of our community, they then return to the fire hall to ensure the equipment is prepped and ready to go for the next emergency call before returning home to try and catch a couple hours of sleep (if they’re lucky) before getting up to go to work for their regular work day. And of course, we in our community should also realize that it is not just the Chief and Deputy Chief and our great volunteers who, week on and week off have to respond, it is also their wives and children who wake when the phone rings, who then try to sleep knowing that their husbands and fathers are out dealing with potentially life threatening situations. This is what our community asks of these two men and their families.
So Council recognized the weight of this responsibility in this year’s budget and moved to create a second Deputy Fire Chief position that will result in one week on and two weeks off from being available 7 days a week/24 hours a day. Council’s action to assist our Chief and Deputy Chief seem quite reasonable from my perspective.
There have also been some adverse comments about the Fire Department being First Responders. By being designated First Responders, this saves the City from asking (and paying) for at least 6 to 8 volunteer firemen to give up two weeks a year to go to Vancouver for training mandated by WorkSafe BC. More importantly it provides an increased level of care to our residents. For example, two days ago, a bicyclist collided with a truck in our downtown area. The two Castlegar ambulances were out of the city on other calls. Our Fire Department attended and found a man on the pavement with his leg opened with a half inch wide gash that exposed his leg bone. Our First Responders arrived at 4:01 pm and began treatment. The ambulance arrived at 4:21. Now if I was unlucky enough to be in an accident or having a medical emergency, I’d much prefer to receive treatment as soon as possible rather than wait an additional 20 minutes as was the case described above. And while some will argue that we need to fix the ambulance system, we at the City have to deal with the existing situation.
There has been some comment about the impact on our budget from adding the new position. Yes there will be an impact. But as was reported by the radio media earlier this year, Nelson currently pays about $10.3 M in operating costs, Trail pays about $5.5 M while Castlegar pays $3.2 M. Our 2013 taxes were lower than those two cities’ taxes were in 2012, so I believe we, as taxpayers do very well compared to other local cities.
Finally, one of the letters referred to a supposed demotion of the Chief when he accepted the part time Airport Manager position. This was not a demotion. This was an addition of responsibility and one at which the Chief has excelled for the benefit of our community (and our City budget). There was a further reference to the Chief’s credentials. As a civic manager, I have seen many applications for different civic positions. I have often found that while an individual may have more direct past experience – in this case, in the airport business, that doesn’t mean much if the individual is simply not competent or is incapable of establishing great relations with the many different users and clients of our airport. I am glad to say that the Chief has established excellent relations with our many different airport users and has been a credit to our City in this capacity. He has overseen the terminal’s refit in mechanical and operating systems. He has overseen the terminal’s interior repainting and refit (that was long overdue). He has met with our many airport leasees and established a very good relationship with them and the City. He has managed a very seamless transition from our previous airport operating contractor to our new contractor. He has worked successfully with our airport contractor to bring our airport’s safety management systems into compliance with new Federal government requirements. And he has done this at very little additional salary cost to the City and our taxpayers. So I cannot accept the odd notion that somehow the Chief was demoted or lacks sufficient airport background to properly run the airport. To the contrary he has done a great job at the airport which continues to operate on a break even basis. He is a very highly valued member of our civic team and, I believe, of our community.
Chief Administrative Officer
City of Castlegar