A newly formed citizens group from Mesachie Lake want the area’s fire chiefs reinstated.
Approximately 20 members of the Mesachie Lake Citizens spoke to the board at the Cowichan Valley Regional District at its regular meeting on Feb. 14 requesting that Gary Eve, the former chief of the Mesachie Lake fire department, and former deputy chief Owen Robertson be returned to their jobs immediately.
Spokeswoman Dr. Brenda Bernhardt said the group want answers as to what happened to cause the CVRD to suddenly fire the two men last month and announce that the all-volunteer fire department would be closed pending a third-party review of its operations.
“It concerns us as a community that our fire chiefs can be forced out and the fire hall suddenly closed without any kind of process or consultations with the community,” Bernhardt said.
“We’re a little community so it’s easy for us little guys to be looked over. But we pay our taxes like everyone else and we feel the CVRD has really failed our community on this issue.”
The CVRD announced last month that the Mesachie Lake fire department would be put on an “operational pause” as of Jan. 24 to allow an independent consultant to conduct a third-party review of the department.
The district also announced that Eve and Robertson, long-time members of the fire department, were being terminated at the same time, but provided no explanation for the firings.
After a public outcry, the fire department resumed operations on Feb. 2 under the temporary leadership of Kevin Smith who the CVRD said served as chief a number of years ago.
But Bernhardt said there are still safety concerns in the community because Smith lacks the experience and training that Eve and Robertson brought to their positions.
“We’re thankful that Kevin Smith helped get the fire hall reopened, but Gary Eve has 27 years of experience behind him and is an instructor of many programs at other fire departments,” she said.
“This guy lives and breathes fire departments. The CVRD didn’t even follow its own guidelines and policies in firing our fire chiefs because sudden terminations are only allowed in extreme situations, and the two-week period from which the decision was made to terminate to the actual firing shows this was no extreme situation.”
CVRD chairman Jon Lefebure reiterated that the termination issue is an internal personnel matter that can’t be discussed publicly.
As for the appointment of Smith as the temporary fire chief, Lefebure said the board felt he is well qualified to serve in that position.