The suspension of North Westside fire chief Jason Satterthwaite and Lt. Rob Gajda continues to have a ripple effect in the community.
According to the Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO), several members of the fire department walked off the job during their training on Tuesday, June 16. District staff said six paid-on-call firefighters handed in their pagers and a seventh member handed in a notice of sick leave.
It had been reported that those who walked off reasoned they wanted to support Satterthwaite and Gajda, who were suspended indefinitely a month ago.
The president of the North Westside Communities Association Wayne Nixon said he doesn’t know the reason for the suspension, and stated North Westside Fire Rescue (NWFR) fire Chief Jason Satterthwaite and Lt. Rob Gajda are under orders not to say anything, so they can’t confirm details either.
Central Okanagan West Electoral Area director Wayne Carson said it’s difficult because the whole situation is a human resources matter, which means everything is confidential to protect Satterthwaite and Gajda’s privacy.
“I have assurance from the RDCO that the matter is being handled now. My concerns are a reflection of my community; that there should be an independent fair assessment of what’s happened here,” he said.
“I know that the Office of the Fire Commissioner is involved and I’m extremely pleased about that. I believe they bring an independent perspective to the situation.”
Carson served as the North Westside Volunteer Fire Department’s chief for 20 years and said he knows how important the department is to the community.
“I’m well aware of the fire service in the community. They’re paid-on-call volunteers and they need to be treated well. They provide an essential service to the community at a very good cost.”
“I’m just really hoping there is a resolution… I’m going to put my faith and trust in the Fire Service Advisor and I truly hope the office will be able to come to a resolution,” he said.
RDCO communications and intergovernmental affairs officer Bruce Smith said because the pagers were handed in, the district presumed that meant the members didn’t want to be active and respond to calls anymore. Smith said Killiney Beach’s Cpt. Graeme Headley and Short’s Creek Cpt. Shawn Barnes will step up in acting deputy chief roles so the department can provide the same level of service in the community.
“Immediately after the (June 16) meeting, the RDCO and the captains recruited three replacement members who were formerly part of the department,” Smith said.
“They are already trained and ready to provide service. An additional four members are in the process and expected to confirm shortly. Three of these individuals are also former members. Contrary to what is being said in the media, residents of the North Westside Fire Protection Area can expect the same level of service that they have had in the past.”
He added the Office of the Fire Commissioner will review operations at the North Westside Fire Department and make recommendations, starting with a review of the officers. The results will be shared with the RDCO board at a later date.
In the meantime, Carson is urging firefighters to put aside their political and personal feelings and work together.
“People’s lives depend on them working together as a team. Anybody who is on the fire department, regardless of their personal feelings, if you have a pager on your belt, you answer those calls. Leave the politics at home.”
West K News has reached out to one of the firefighters, who handed in their pager, for comment.
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