Grand Forks Fire and Rescue (Black Press Media files)

Grand Forks fire chief found to have bullied, harassed volunteer firefighter: report

WorkSafeBC, third-party human resources investigation looking into allegations complete

Grand Forks fire chief Dale Heriot will be returning to work, despite being found by WorkSafeBC and an external city investigation to have bullied and harassed a member of the department following a complaint made earlier this year.

In a letter to the original complainant, obtained by Black Press Media, the city acknowledged that actions by the fire chief constituted as bullying and harassment, as defined by WorkSafeBC.

READ MORE: Grand Forks fire department under investigation for alleged bullying and harassment

“Through both the facts and findings it is evident that the complainant has experienced ‘patterns of social isolation’ instigated by the Fire Chief in an attempt to ‘humiliate and intimidate’ him,” reads the letter signed by the city’s chief administrative officer Diane Heinrich.

According to the city, the consulting firm made a recommendation to Heriot during the external investigation that he allow the volunteer firefighter to be notified of and respond to calls – a role he suddenly disallowed in April.

However, his decision not to follow the “strong advice” was found to amount to “’sabotaging someone’s work,’ which [Heriot] ought to have known would cause the complainant to be humiliated,” the letter from the city read.

Heriot has been on paid administrative leave since May 10. Grand Forks deputy corporate officer Kevin McKinnon told Black Press Media that city staff are working on a “return to work” plan for the chief.

Four other volunteer firefighters now also on leave

“This process has been incredibly frustrating,” the complainant said about the three-month timeline since he filed the original complaint with WorkSafeBC. The volunteer firefighter spoke to the Gazette on the condition of anonymity.

The incident began in early March, when the complainant brought forward a number of safety concerns to Heriot, including the department’s absence to conduct annual tests for hose equipment and fitness tests for crews. The disagreement between him and Heriot sparked a third-party human resources investigation, which cost the city $10,000.

As both the third-party HR investigation went on, as well as the WorkSafeBC inspection, the firefighter said that tensions began to rise within the department.

Since being made aware of the fire chief allegedly excluding him from calls, the fire department has apparently updated its policy on callouts to “ensure that it can be applied consistently to all members,” McKinnon said.

The city has also completed tests on the fire hoses, the fitness of its members and seals on the self-contained breathing masks used when responding to a fire, as per a WorkSafeBC order.

Amid the changes, the complainant is remaining cautiously optimistic.

“I’m happy that the city has taken the complaints seriously and it is my hope that they follow the recommendations of the third-party human resources consultant,” he said.

The city also confirmed that the volunteer firefighter will be able to return to his duties at the fire hall, but only after he meets with the acting fire chief.

READ MORE: Grand Forks fire chief on paid leave amid bullying, harassment allegations

However, the volunteer firefighter has also filed another to WorkSafeBC – this time against Deputy Chief Rich Piché, citing allegations of bullying, harassment and retaliation. That investigation is still underway and Black Press Media has requested further information from WorkSafeBC.

In addition to Piché, three other veteran firefighters have gone on leave. One member has requested a six-month leave while three others have requested leaves up to three months.

McKinnon said in an email that, despite the loss of several long-serving members, the department is adequately staffed with experienced firefighters and that recent practice attendance “has been in line with seasonal norms.”

Bullying and harassment training incomplete

The April WorkSafeBC investigation also found that the Grand Forks fire department did not meet appropriate standards for workplace bullying and harassment training for its members. As such, the department resolved to hold seminars to ensure that all staff were suitably trained.

“It is encouraging that the recent safety issues have been addressed and that the department finally meets WorkSafeBC industry standards,” said the complainant.

As it stands, 23 of the 45 members of the department have participated in a sanctioned workplace bullying and harassment seminar.

“With 22 members still to go,” said McKinnon, “an additional session will be held on an upcoming practice night, subject to summertime attendance.” The department will then hold one-on-one training with any members who missed out on both sessions.

It is unclear when Heriot will return to his role as fire chief.

The Gazette contacted Heriot, who said he could not comment at this time.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Striking Western Forest Products workers could lose benefits in September

Union, forest company at odds over Vancouver Island benefit payments as strike enters third month

Chemainus Health Care Auxiliary outlines its mandate at North Cowichan council meeting

President Beaubier states her case for group’s tireless efforts

Current MP opens Cowichan-Malahat-Langford campaign office

MacGregor vowing to return to Ottawa for another four years

Environment and economy key issues for Liberal’s Cowichan-Malahat-Langford candidate

Herbert campaign focuses on party’s investments in both areas

Roundabout taxing for public purse strings

The need for four a short distance apart seems unfathomable

B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

Federal government says officials are seeing the same thing off Alaska and Washington state

Expanded support to help B.C. youth from care attend university still falling short

Inadequate support, limited awareness and eligibility restrictions some of the existing challenges

Ethnic media aim to help maintain boost in voting by new Canadians

Statistics Canada says new Canadians made up about one-fifth of the voting population in 2016

Cross-examination begins for B.C. dad accused of killing young daughters

Andrew Berry is charged in the deaths of six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey in 2017

Dog attacked by river otters, Penticton owner says

Marie Fletcher says her dog was pulled underwater by four river otters in the Penticton Channel

BC SPCA overwhelmed with cats, kittens needing homes

Large number of cruelty investigations, plus normal ‘kitten season’ to blame

Wife charged in husband’s death in Sechelt

Karin Fischer has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of her husband, Max

B.C. Hydro applies for rare cut in electricity rates next year

Province wrote off $1.1 billion debt to help reverse rate increase

Most Read