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Coronavirus: North Westside residents concerned after two fire officials travel to Mexico

Click to play video: 'North Westside fire officials travel to Mexico' North Westside fire officials travel to Mexico
WATCH: Central Okanagan officials have confirmed that two local firefighters travelled to Mexico recently even though health officials have been urging Canadians to stay home. For some residents in the small community the firefighters serve, the news is not sitting well. However, the regional district, which manages the fire department, is not taking action and says the fire protection area was well served while the pair were outside of Canada. – Feb 1, 2021

Central Okanagan officials have confirmed that two local firefighters traveled to Mexico recently, even though health officials have been urging Canadians to stay home during the pandemic.

The pair are both acting deputy fire chiefs with North Westside Fire Rescue, which serves the rural communities on the northwest side of Okanagan Lake,

The news is not sitting well with some westside residents.

Read more: North Westside residents hold rally seeking answers after fire chief suspended

However, the regional district, which manages the fire department, is not taking action and says the fire protection area was well served while the pair were outside of Canada.

“If our two interim deputy chiefs are both away at the same time, who is in charge?” said resident Steve Rush.

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“(It) just seems like they don’t care. Basically, they are better than us. They are above the normal practices and principles that are now in place.”

Click to play video: 'Confusion persists over travel outside your B.C. community' Confusion persists over travel outside your B.C. community
Confusion persists over travel outside your B.C. community – Jan 31, 2021

The Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO), which manages North Westside Fire Rescue, said it discourages employee travel.

However, a spokesperson for the regional government said the RDCO knew the fire department’s two highest-ranking members were leaving the country.

RDCO Communications Officer Bruce Smith said the paid-on-call firefighters do not require the same vacation approval as other regional district employees.

Read more: COVID-19: Calgary hotel association worried about ‘wrath’ from quarantined guests

“Their vacation eligibility is based on the ability of the department to respond to calls,” Smith said.

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Despite community concerns, Smith said the fire department does still has the resources to fulfill all calls for service even though their deputy chiefs are away.

“The captain who is in charge right now has actually got six years experience, is fully certified as a firefighter, and is actually the department’s training officer,” Smith said.

Still, some see the regional district’s current stance as a double standard.

“Our fire chief was suspended last year for attending an essential fire prevention course in Vernon because it broke regional district policy related to COVID. Yet these two gentlemen can go to Mexico under a health order to not travel for non-essential (reasons) and that’s okay?” said Callie Simpson a director of governance with the North Westside Communities Association.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Canadians abroad and those travelling essentially react to new travel rules' COVID-19: Canadians abroad and those travelling essentially react to new travel rules
COVID-19: Canadians abroad and those travelling essentially react to new travel rules – Jan 31, 2021

The RDCO said it won’t discuss the allegations about why the former fire chief was suspended.

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“In keeping with the provincial privacy legislation we can’t provide any details on this matter because it is a human resources personnel matter,” Smith said.

What the regional district is committing to is requiring the traveling firefighters to complete their mandatory 14-day post-vacation quarantine before returning to active duty.

That measure is unlikely to satisfy some concerned residents who think the RDCO should be held accountable for the situation.

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