With a handshake in front of Municipal Hall Thursday afternoon, the Bowen firefighters’ threat to resign en masse was at least postponed.
Mayor Gary Ander told reporters that of his own volition, Fire Chief Derek Dickson stepped aside temporarily.
“We will proceed with some kind of mediation with all parties concerned and see if we can’t come to some kind of an understanding and move this thing forward and serve the community,” said Ander.
“My first priority is the safety of our firefighters and the residents of our community. I will be taking a step back from operations for a time,” said Fire Chief Derek Dickson in a press release from Bowen Island Municipality. “But I look forward to engaging further in this process with the membership in a facilitated environment.”
The island’s volunteer firefighters had sent a letter to Bowen Island Municipality on Oct. 7, giving BIM a deadline of 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon to remove the fire chief or all the firefighters would resign.
Ander said that the resolution came within half an hour of the 4 p.m. deadline. He said that the fire chief would be on leave for the duration of the arbitration process but would be paid.
“He will have input in the negotiations,” said Ander. “But he will have no day-to-day operation of the fire hall.”
While the firefighters are staying for the time being, the issue is not resolved. “We're not negotiating working with the new fire chief, we're asking for the dismissal or for him to stand down,” said spokesperson for the volunteer firefighters Mike Hartwick. “But we're also open for it to be done in due process and give everybody a chance to speak up.
“Our goal is to stay and we'll stay as long as we can,” said Hartwick. “But if we find that the negotiations are going nowhere, then we are back to where we stand before and there'll be a mass resignation, once again.”
A press release from the municipality said that deputy fire chief Aaron Hanen will take over day-to-day operation and the firefighters will remain in their positions.
“I’m very relieved,” said Ander of the temporary resolution.
“It’s a good day for Bowen Islanders,” he said.
The announcement of the temporary resolution was made before a crowd of islanders of all ages and half a dozen volunteer firefighters. Some of the islanders had been camped out in front of Municipal Hall since 11 a.m. demanding answers and action from the municipality.