Bowen Island fire chief steps aside after volunteer firefighters threaten to resign

Click to play video: 'Bowen Island volunteer fire department embroiled in controversy' Bowen Island volunteer fire department embroiled in controversy
Volunteer firefighters on Bowen Island are threatening to quit over the new leadership of the department. That could be bad news for island residents. Ted Chrenecki reports. – Oct 10, 2019

Bowen Island’s fire chief has offered to take a leave of absence to try and resolve a workplace dispute that nearly ended in all 26 volunteer firefighters walking off the job.

The volunteers gave the local council until 4 p.m. Thursday to kick out their chief, Derek Dickson, who has only been on the job since July after getting hired from North Vancouver.

Moments before the deadline, as the volunteers gathered at the municipal hall to hand in their resignations, the municipality announced Dickson had “offered to take vacation time, effective immediately, in order to encourage a way forward.”

“My first priority is the safety of our firefighters and the residents of our community,” Dickson said in a statement. “I will be taking a step back from operations for a time … but I look forward to engaging further in this process with the membership in a facilitated environment.”

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Mayor Gary Ander said it was Dickson’s idea to “step aside for the good of the community.”

Deputy fire chief Aaron Hanen has agreed to take over leadership of the fire hall, and the firefighters have agreed to continue in their positions.

The volunteers were willing to let the fire hall go unmanned over Dickson’s leadership. The prospect of that happening concerned residents in the community who worried their homes would be at risk.

No one has gone on the record to say why they believe Dickson needs to go, but the volunteers said the overall mood at the hall had soured since his arrival.

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Mike Hartwick pushed back on the idea that Dickson tried to make him and his fellow volunteers work more than they were used to, however.

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“There’s never been an issue of, ‘I hope we don’t get someone that actually tries to make us do something, or so we can just sit around and do nothing,'” he said. “That’s never been the case. We welcome, we enjoy our training.”

The volunteers have called on local officials to terminate Dickson’s employment, believing he’s still on probation. But the mayor has made clear the solution isn’t that cut and dry.

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“We’ve got to go through council, we’ve got to go and do all the different things and go through our [human resources] department,” he said. “There’s process.”

While Dickson’s leave has calmed the situation, the volunteers have made it clear to the municipality that they will still walk if Dickson doesn’t fully resign.

“We gave them not an ultimatum but a question: will you work with us in this way under these circumstances?” Hartwick said. “They’ve come back to us to indicate that, I guess it was their idea [that Dickson took leave]. We’ll give them that.”
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—With files from Ted Chernecki

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