North Westside Fire Rescue. (File)

North Westside Fire Rescue. (File)

Two North Westside deputy fire chiefs jet off to Mexico amid pandemic

‘To have two of the most senior guys off of our force at the exact same time puts us in a risky situation out here’

The two most senior firefighters in a rural Okanagan community have jetted off to Mexico, leaving fire services in the hands of a 22-year-old captain with support from the regional district’s fire services manager.

North Westside residents are now left without their two acting deputy fire chiefs Graeme Headley and Sean Barnes, prompting concern among some in the community.

“I know the residents are really upset,” said Callie Simpson, who sits on the North Westside Communities Association’s executive board. “To have two of the most senior guys off of our force at the exact same time puts us in a risky situation out here.”

North Westside Fire Rescue covers several rural unincorporated communities on the western side of Okanagan Lake, including Fintry, Killiney, La Casa, Westshore Estates, Caesar’s Landing and Valley of the Sun — all of which are managed by the Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO).

RDCO communications officer Bruce Smith said both Headley and Barnes will self-isolate for the required two-weeks upon their return before they’re available for active duty. In the meantime, Smith said the department is fully operational and functioning as usual. The 22-year-old left in charge of the hall has been with the department since he was in high school and has six years of experience working with North Westside Fire Rescue.

“Even with the deputy chiefs away, the operational requirement has been and will continue to be met,” he said, also noting winter is a “slower time of year” for fire department responses.

READ MORE: Tempers fly over a pricey picnic shelter in the North Westside

READ MORE: North Westside firefighters replaced after protesting suspension of chief, deputy

Despite RDCO discouraging employees’ non-essential travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith said the district doesn’t have the authority to approve or deny vacation requests of the fire hall’s 27 paid-on-call members due to them being volunteers. This in itself highlights an ongoing problem, said Simpson.

Simpson claims the dismissal of the hall’s former fire Chief Jason Satterthwaite and his deputy Rob Gajda in May 2020 came after they travelled to Vernon for training. The indefinite suspension resulted in community backlash and an eventual exodus of several volunteers. Upon request for comment on the issue, the RDCO stated it does not publicly discuss the reasoning behind its employment decisions.

This, Simpson said, begs the question of why Barnes and Headley aren’t being held to the same standard.

“[Satterthwaite and Gajda were] suspended for attending that course because it broke RDCO policy. But these guys can go to Mexico?” Simpson said.

“There seems to be this huge double standard; the RDCO seems to pick and choose who they decide to enforce rules on.”

This is the latest debacle in ongoing tensions between North Westside residents and the RDCO. Currently, Simpson is part of a regional self-governance committee that has made a recommendation to the RDCO board for an independent self-governance analysis for the North Westside — something the community has pursued since 2016 due to a lack of trust between the district and its residents.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with an additional response from the RDCO and to reflect the accurate spelling of Graeme Headley’s name.

READ MORE: No resolutions for unhappy North Westside residents

READ MORE: Regional district supports North Westside

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: michael.rodriguez@kelownacapnews.com


@michaelrdrguez
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Central Okanagan Regional District

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

A real estate sign is pictured in Vancouver, Tuesday, June, 12, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Okanagan-Shuswap real estate market continues hot start to 2021

Sales in February were up more than 100 per cent over last year, reports the Association of Interior Realtors

Const. Kevin Fuglewicz is the Vernon North Okanagan RCMP’s newest member of its Downtown Enforcement Unit. (Vernon North Okanagan RCMP photo)
Vernon RCMP add new downtown unit member

Const. Kevin Fuglewicz joins Downtown Enforcement Unit for rural north operations

The District of Lake Country has placed load restrictions on city roads due to early warming weather. (Black Press file photo)
Load restrictions set on Lake Country roads

A 70 per cent axle weight restriction has been implemented to protect roads during warming weather

Okanagan high school girls volleyball players Georgia MacLean of Lake Country’s George Elliot Secondary (from left), Olivia Pederson of Vernon Christian School, Kassidy Schaper-Kotter of Vernon Secondary and Makenna Lane from W.L. Seaton Secondary have signed to play college volleyball with Abbotsford’s Columbia Bible College. (File photos)
Fraser Valley college inks quartet of Okanagan recruits

Columbia Bible College Bearcats in Abbotsford sign four players to women’s volleyball squad

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Although B.C. has not made masks mandatory in public indoor spaces, some business owners are requiring all customers to wear them before entering their store. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
EDITORIAL: Heightened tension over face masks

Incidents of anger and conflicts over mandated masks happening too frequently

John Hordyk said it isn’t fair to just look at COVID-19 deaths as many survivors are experiencing long-term impacts, himself included. (Photo by Rachel Muise)
Not getting better: Revelstoke man diagnosed with post-COVID-19 syndrome

‘I hope the damage isn’t long term, but it could be permanent’

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki responded to BC Housing minster David Eby’s remarks that the city has put themselves at risk of creating a tent city Wednesday, March 3, 2020. (Western News file photo)
Penticton mayor calls out BC Housing minister for ‘irresponsible fear-mongering’

Council recently rejected BC Housing’s request to keep a winter shelter open longer than first planned

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

Most Read