RDOS unifies rural fire departments

A slow burning dispute between regional fire departments and their employer has finally been snuffed out.

Seven departments — Anarchist Mountain, Kaleden, Keremeos, Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Tulameen and Willowbrook — were united under a single operational bylaw by the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

The bylaw concluded a year of negotiations between the departments and the RDOS.

The departments, through the South Okanagan Similkameen Fire Chiefs Association, were fighting to maintain local control, while the RDOS was seeking to standardize operational procedures and implement recommendations from a 2017 master plan.

“The main benefit to the Anarchist Mountain Fire Department will be the administrative support that should reduce the paper work burden on the fire chief,” said Electoral Area “A” representative Mark Pendergraft.

An earlier version of the bylaw was rejected by the board a year ago on the advice of the chiefs, resulting in each department working under its own rules and reporting to the 19-member RDOS board.

“The SOSFCA members are reasonably content with the completion of this revised bylaw.  Did we get everything we were wanting? No, it required compromise on both our part and the part of the regional district,” association president and Kaleden fire Chief Denis Gaudry said in a statement.

The new bylaw has the departments reporting to RDOS chief administrative officer Bill Newell and a yet-to-be hired protective services co-ordinator.

“We’ve gone a year with 19 directors being in charge, and that’s been quite a challenge, so it is definitely a step in the right direction and hopefully it will work fine,” RDOS chairwoman Karla Kozakevich said just prior to the new bylaw’s adoption.

“Otherwise, we’ll see it back here to be amended or rescinded, but let’s hope this is the ticket to some success.”

Crucially, the RDOS must consult with the departments on major decisions, such as training programs, operational guidelines and even the hiring of new chiefs.

“It will be complex,” Mr. Newell agreed.

Mr. Gaudry said the chiefs’ focus all along was “to keep the fire departments community- based.

“We wished to maintain our important historic recognition as being volunteers, we wished to maintain operational responsibility and control within the community and finally to have effective and efficient linkages to administrative support within the RDOS,” said Mr. Gaudry.

With files from Penticton Herald

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