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Dawson City firefighters’ lives put at risk: fire marshal’s office

A Yukon fire marshal’s office inspection has found major issues with how the Dawson City Fire Department is run, some putting the firefighters’ lives at risk.

A Yukon fire marshal’s office inspection has found major issues with how the Dawson City Fire Department is run, some putting the firefighters’ lives at risk.

The News has obtained a copy of the inspection report, dated June 17.

The fire marshal’s office (FMO) tested the department’s self-contained breathing apparatuses – the breathing masks used when working on fires.

Each one of them failed the tests performed because the built-in redundancy didn’t work.

“In plain language terms, to the best of FMO staff’s knowledge, the safety of firefighters has been compromised while they have been working in environments that were immediately dangerous to life and health,” the report, signed by acting fire marshal Kevin Taylor, reads.

The FMO has loaned five breathing apparatuses to the city firefighters while they wait for new ones.

The other major issue found was that the department has kept few to no inspection, training, investigation or fire records.

The FMO looked for inspection reports of businesses in Dawson City, but the most recent reports dated back to 2007 in the department’s records.

After looking through backup files, the office found one inspection dated May 8, 2015.

“The FMO expected to find hundreds of reports representing a current and historical picture of annual fire inspections in the City,” the report reads.

Without those reports, it’s impossible to verify when inspections for most of the city were done.

As a result, the FMO ran 65 inspections in four weeks.

Of all the businesses inspected, only two were able to produce a copy of their latest inspection – from 2014.

The FMO couldn’t find up-to-date training records for individual firefighters.

“This appears to be in direct contravention with YOHSA (Yukon Occupational Health and Safety Act) requirements.”

The FMO also found very few investigation reports of fires and other incidents.

“It is unlikely that only three fires have warranted investigation in the history of the DCFD,” the report reads.

“Again … the City owes a duty of care to its citizens and visitors to protect them from fire.”

The FMO couldn’t find fire and incident reports either.

They located one on a backup of the fire chief’s laptop, dating to 2005.

The office called the absence of reports a “real concern.”

“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 report ends by recommending that the city ask the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board for a full audit of the fire department.

In fact, the board did perform an inspection on June 15, but it was a routine inspection of the fire hall.

It resulted in 14 orders to bring the department in line with territorial standards.

Spokesperson Andrew Robulack told the News most of them were minor.

The only significant one was that the safety training program was out-of-date and the main air compressor was overdue for its annual testing.

In an interview today, Dawson City Mayor Wayne Potoroka said new breathing apparatuses have been ordered.

“That document is now in the hands of the people it needs to be, the CAO (Chief Administrative Officer Andre Larabie) and the protective services manager (fire chief Jim Regimbal),” he said.

Potoroka said the safety of all residents and the firefighters, who are all volunteers except the fire chief, is of utmost concern.

“It’s unfortunate the report didn’t focus on some of the good things happening in our fire service including addressing decade-old problems we’ve addressed,” Potoroka said.

But he has questions himself about the findings of the report.

“We want to know what improvements are going to be put in place to make sure we won’t get a report like this ever again.”

Potoroka directed some of the questions to Regimbal.

The fire chief declined to comment, though he acknowledged that the findings of the report are “pretty damning.”

Larabie told the News he only received the report on Wednesday.

He is also on sick leave and only works a few hours per day so he hasn’t had time to meet with the fire chief yet.

He says he’ll meet with the fire chief and the FMO, and then prepare a report for council.

Larabie told the News he called in the FMO to do checks while Regimbal was away on vacation. He said that was required, as Regimbal is the only paid, trained member of the fire department.

The Department of Community Services, which includes the Yukon fire marshal’s office, confirmed that.

“The fire marshal’s office, at the request of the City of Dawson, conducted fire and life safety inspections to help ensure business continuity for the tourist season,” said spokesperson Amanda Couch.

“This was not an investigation into the fire department.”

But the FMO report also indicated the City specifically asked the office to review the fire department’s administration.

Larabie noted he had only been the CAO for nine months and couldn’t answer questions about what has been done at the fire department for the past several years.

He resigned a month ago, citing personal reasons, and will leave his position in September. He is leaving the city to return to Ottawa, he told the News.

It’s also not clear whether the inspection is linked to Regimbal’s firing and re-hiring earlier this year.

Nobody from the City has yet given an explanation as to why Regimbal was fired.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at