The chair of Plympton-Wyoming’s fire board says its working to mend fences, fix problems and keep its volunteers happy.
Plympton-Wyoming Councillor Bob Woolvett says since July, the board has been dealing with multiple issues which have been festering over the past five to 10 years and creating new Safe Operating Guidelines for the department.
Woolvett says the board and members of the Camlachie and Wyoming departments got together after months of turmoil surrounding the firing of three senior firefighters. One of the firefighters had filed a sexual harassment complaint. All say they were wrongfully dismissed.
The meetings also coincided with the stress leave of the current chief, Steve Clemens. He continues to be on leave.
Woolvett says the firefighters brought forward concerns – everything from lack of proper training for a water and ice rescue unit, to not enough medical training for some members and the absences of health and safety committees at both halls.
Some of the concerns include firefighters obtaining their DZ licence to drive the trucks.
Woolvett says under the fire code it is permissible for firefighters without the licence to drive to a fire to get equipment there, but not back.
“We said yourself as a fire board member; ‘What would the insurance companies think of this?’he says. Woolvett says they decided to “take the high road” and make sure everyone driving had the right licence.
He says 75 per cent of the firefighters have now obtained those licences.
The fire board, through the acting chief, has also suspended all training of the water and ice unit. The boat and equipment were purchased in the last year and Woolvett says the idea was some firefighters would be trained and then train others. However, until a third party trainer can be found: “Nobody is doing any of that fire rescue until everybody is certified.”
The same goes for Hazmat procedures, grain elevator rescues and technical rescues.
Woolvett says the department is also looking for third party trainers for those specialities.
Woolvett says there was a lot of concern that a Joint Health and Safety Committee was not in place at either department. He says in the past, firefighters had been reluctant to take the intensive training necessary to become a certified member of the board.
The fire board chair says on Monday, both Wyoming and Camlachie have committees up and running, although people are still taking training.
Firefighters also voiced concern that some members didn’t have enough training for medical calls. Woolvett says the standard will now reflect the need to have the training specified by WSIB and the base hospital credentials. Woolvett says those who don’t have those yet will not be answering medical calls.
Woolvett added that while there were significant problems, he believes the department was acting safely in the last few months.
The Safe Operations Guidelines also call for setting up Peer-to-Peer support, something that has been missing for months.
One of the three firefighters dismissed was a peer councillor.
The plan also outlines the need for help for PTSD, for a clear Code of Conduct, a way to complain when there is a violation, including in the case of sexual harassment. One of the firefighters fired by the department says she was the victim of sexual harassment.
Woolvett says the board wants to have clear expectations and clear lines of communication.
Woolvett says in the past few years, that has been lacking. “People have to know what’s going on, and not be afraid to speak up.”
Woolvett says the fire board is committed to make things better after many years of miscommunication and confrontations.
“We’ve been having problems within the fire department going back long before that dismissal happened.
“You know, as well as I do, way back when we decided to have a full time chief, there was issues around that – there was issues around who got hired and who didn’t get hired.
“There was all kinds of issues before that, too.”
But he admits the dismissal of the three firefighters – who have hired lawyers – and the public outcry about it, brought the matter to a head.
Woolvett says it will take some time to deal with the issues at hand.
And he’s not sure what role Chief Clemens will play when he returns to work. “That’s a really tough question to answer,” says Woolvett.
“I don’t want to get into what happened with or without him. But, you know, things are rolling along here.
“We are addressing this stuff. All this stuff…basically was all put together since he’s been off sick, so yeah, I mean, once again, these problems have been adding up for a long time, even before he came on the scene.”
Woolvett says the fire board is just looking to improve the situation.
“Because we have utmost respect for fire men and women in our fire department …we want to get that improved and we don’t want to look back…because those who dwell in the past certainly ruin that future.”