The Cariboo Regional District is bringing in an independent assessor to evaluate the situation at the Interlakes Volunteer Fire Department (IVFD), following complaints from members about too-rigid training standards.
Some members argued last month that IVFD could lose volunteer firefighters because they were required to complete an accreditated training program through the College of the Rockies, rather than the previous in-house training.
“A number of the members of the Interlakes Fire department are not agreeing with the approach that the CRD has taken with respect to implementing the training requirements of the office of the fire commissioner for rural fire departments,” said Brian Carruthers, interim chief administrative officer for the CRD. “It’s just that simple.”
The CRD maintains the training program supports the Office of the Fire Commissioner’s Playbook and is required for all B.C. fire departments. However, these members are resisting the training, Carruthers said, which has created a considerable amount of tension within the department. Some of this frustration has been taken out on fire chief Todd Schley, he said, and a few members have resigned recently as a result.
Schley declined to comment, referring the Free Press to the CRD.
Carruthers said the impartial, independent third-party professional will speak with both the IVFD leadership and members, as well as look at their training records and the work they’re doing as a department before providing their assessment.
“There is a lot of he-said-she-said and I can’t work with that,” Carruthers said. “I’m bringing in somebody who knows the business very well and will be able to sift through the issues and, hopefully, work with that group to help them resolve some of their concerns but ultimately to provide some recommendations to the regional district with respect to how they move forward.”
The most important consideration here, he said, is the public who rely on the fire department services. The CRD is responsible for 14 fire halls across the Cariboo - six in the South Cariboo area. The Interlakes Volunteer Fire Department has three halls.
At the end of the day, training is required, he said. The board has no choice but to ensure its fire department is adequately trained and operating professionally.
Eugene Gerwing, a volunteer for IVFD for the past six years, complained in December about the new stringent training and oversight, saying it makes the firefighters feel more like employees rather than volunteers.
In the past, the training was done in-house following the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) 1001 guidelines specifically the 2019 British Columbia Fire Service Minimum Training Standards, Structure Firefighters Competency and Training Playbook.
That training, both the written and practical tests, was aimed to help members pass, he said. Now, members feel the college proctors are stricter about testing and aren’t as supportive.
Gerwing said the independent assessment is a positive step. “Obviously, the CRD realizes there is a problem and now they’re trying to find a way to come to a solution.”
Carruthers said the plan is to have the assessment completed by the first week in February.