Kelowna firefighters participate in an exercise in this Sept. 11, 2019 photo. (Natalia Cuevas Huaico - Capital News)

North Westside residents shocked at fire chief’s suspension

Communities association president said they don’t know why the suspension happened

North Westside residents are shocked and upset after learning their fire chief and his lieutenant are being suspended.

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.

“I wasn’t really aware of the situation until a few days ago. Obviously, I’m very shocked. Jason has been our chief and he’s an incredibly well-respected person in our community,” Nixon said.

He added some of the area residents attended the Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO) offices on May 25 in time for a board meeting.

“We wanted to lend our support (to the men) in any way we can. In a small community, as we have here on the Westside, the fire department is our first responders. Not just for fire, but health issues and so many other things. So when that is disrupted, it has a huge ripple effect in our community.”

“We know full well we’re heading into the fire season… and people get very nervous about that. And when you take out your chief and the trainer for the rest of the group, it’s very very unsettling. It’s not just unsettling to the community but unsettling to the rest of the volunteers.”

He added that in the meantime, another volunteer has stepped up while Satterthwaite and Gajda are gone so fire hall operations don’t get too disrupted.

The RDCO’s communications officer Bruce Smith said the safety of the North Westside Fire Rescue remains a top priority, and that paid on-call members are still highly committed to responding to emergencies.

“There has not been any change in service provided by the fire department,” he said.

“Deputy Chief Mike Cantryn is leading the department in the short term and has the assistance and support of RDCO Fire Services Manager Ross Kotscherofski.”

Smith added that as the situation is a human resources matter, the district cannot provide further details to respect the privacy of those involved.

In April, the NWFR were offered use of a residence in La Casa as a self-isolation house in case of potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

Gajda told Black Press firefighters were honoured by the offer, but the RDCO had to come to an agreement with the homeowner to ensure legal protections for all parties involved.

Smith told Black Press last month the RDCO would be in contact with the homeowner.

As for Nixon, he said he’s received many phone calls asking him what will happen.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. All I know is that our community is in support of the two gentlemen who have been suspended… I’m going to continue to support the fire team.”

READ: WHO warns that 1st wave of pandemic not over, dampens hopes

READ: Trial to continue for Surrey man accused of killing partner in West Kelowna


Twila Amato
Video journalist, Black Press Okanagan
Email me at twila.amato@blackpress.ca
Follow me on Twitter

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