‘Under siege:’ Dawson City mayor frustrated with fire department reviews

Dawson City’s mayor says he is frustrated with how reviews of the city’s fire department have been handled.

Dawson City’s mayor says he is frustrated with how reviews of the city’s fire department have been handled.

On Aug. 5, the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board issued nine orders pertaining to record keeping at the Dawson City Fire Department.

Back in June, the Yukon Fire Marshal’s Office had already called for better record keeping of the DCFD in an inspection report sent to the city.

Mayor Wayne Potoroka questioned why the News got a copy of both the FMO report and the latest compensation board orders before Fire Chief Jim Regimbal could have a look at them.

“To be frank, we’ve really got nothing to hide,” Potoroka said.

The inspections and recommendations are always welcomed, he added, but the way it’s being handled publicly is “unprofessional and unnecessary.”

“(The fire department is) wondering where the next slap is going to come from out of the Yukon government,” he said.

Those record keeping issues had already been identified in a strategic plan released months ago, Potoroka said.

The 79-page strategic plan, passed by council in December 2015, looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the DCFD.

Among the weaknesses found were some gaps in structure firefighting skills and “availability challenges” for firefighters.

It set out a number of priorities, including establishing regularly scheduled fire inspections and taking away bylaw responsibilities from the fire chief.

A section titled “training record” noted it was vital that training records be kept to comply with Yukon standards, but didn’t explicitly note deficiencies in the record keeping.

Besides Regimbal, all DCFD firefighters are volunteers.

“It feels as if they’re under siege,” said Potoroka.

Those few months have been hard on them, he said.

“When the fire alarm goes off at night … who’s going to be the folks you’re hoping are going to get out of bed and respond?” he asked.

“It ain’t going to be anybody out of Whitehorse or one of those inspectors who are going to be there.”

In an interview today Regimbal mentioned “inconsistencies” in how the compensation board did two inspections.

The compensation board did a first inspection on June 15, resulting in 14 orders.

Those orders were qualified as “minor” by a board spokesperson.

Regimbal said he sat down with the inspector to figure out a feasible deadline to implement the orders.

The majority of them have been complied with, he said.

But the board followed up July 5 to check if the department had complied with the orders. It said that “several items of concern were observed” in the fire department.

Training records, inspection records and maintenance records were incomplete or not consistently filed, the report said.

This latest set of orders give the fire department a deadline of Aug. 31 to start filing some of these reports.

In some cases, the fire department is asked to file some of the records every month for the next six months.

That’s just unrealistic, Regimbal said, because the inspector did not contact him prior to issuing the report.

The report was delivered to the chief administrative officer, workers’ compensation board spokesperson Andrew Robulack told the News.

“It would be up to administration at the City of Dawson to decide who attended that meeting in representation of the City,” he said.

It all started in March when the City of Dawson, through CAO Andre Larabie, asked the FMO to assist because the fire chief was away. But it also asked for a review of the department’s administration.

Regimbal had at that time been suspended. He was later reinstated. Larabie has since resigned.

It’s not clear what, if any, links exist between those elements.

The FMO report, on top of the record keeping recommendations, claimed firefighters’ lives had been put at risk because self-contained breathing apparatuses failed safety tests.

The Dawson City Firefighters Association took to the media later that month, saying third-party testing showed some of the SCBAs worked fine.

Regimbal told the News he had “concerns” with the FMO report.

He wouldn’t specify what those concerns are, only saying he told city council during a closed session meeting.

“I didn’t think it was necessary to air our laundry in public.”

Regimbal said it was the first time in 11 years the compensation board did an inspection of the fire department.

“You would be hard pressed to find any fire department out there that doesn’t need better record management,” he said.

“Our door is always open for the public to come in and look through our records.”

Robulack said the compensation board regularly inspects Dawson City workplaces.

“The City of Dawson requested specifically that we inspect the fire hall earlier this year, and so we took a close look at it.”

Regimbal also questioned why the health and safety orders set out a precise frequency to file some of the records, which is not set out in regulations.

Robulack said the fire department is responsible for setting out those frequencies.

“In the case of the specific (schedule) identified in these orders, the safety officer was told by the fire chief that these were the timelines established in the workplace by the employer,” he said.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at

pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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