The Cariboo Regional District board of directors voted against deferring a workplace policy requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees – including volunteer firefighters – at a special board meeting Wednesday.
The vote followed a lengthy in-camera meeting, the details of which were not made available to the public.
The board also voted to request that CAO John MacLean or another designated staff member engage in discussions with the region’s volunteer fire halls, starting with those halls facing staffing challenges in light of the policy. The CRD oversees 14 fire halls across the region.
“We have to make sure the correct information is getting out,” CRD chair Margo Wagner said.
Stuart Larson, CRD’s manager of protective services, told the board that discussions had already started with those particular halls facing challenges and that the “lines of communication have always been open between the chiefs and the protective services department.”
Larson noted that very little communication had been received from the halls that are not facing staffing issues.
Details on the number of firefighters not currently in compliance with the vaccine policy have not been made public, despite repeated requests for that information.
At Friday’s board meeting, directors voted 8-5 to recommend the policy be deferred for up to two months. At that time, Director Al Richmond said the two halls in his region (108 Mile Ranch-Lac La Hache) would not be negatively affected by the policy.
Last week, Lone Butte fire chief Jon Grieve released a statement online saying his hall would no longer be able to provide medical first responder assistance due to insufficient staffing in light of the policy.
On Monday, however, a communications official with the CRD told the Free Press “the large majority of the region’s volunteer firefighters and other emergency responders have met the vaccine requirement.”
Following the vote Wednesday, Richmond said the CRD needs to find a way to communicate the details discussed at the in-camera meeting to the various departments and the general public.
“We learned a lot today, but because of where we learned it we can’t speak on it,” Richmond said. “The same information that was given to us today needs to be provided to the people who don’t understand what happened and why it happened. I think most people, if you explained what we heard today, they will understand the position that the CRD is in.”
Director Mary Sjostrom (Red Bluff – South Quesnel) noted the importance of letting the volunteer departments know the outcome of the vote as soon as possible, as some members could be waiting in anticipation.
Wagner agreed, and said she acknowledged the situation had been “very difficult for these volunteers.”
“We need to appreciate that they’ve had to make some very tough decisions, no matter what side they fall on,” Wagner said.
The CRD’s mandatory vaccine policy came into effect Jan. 17. It follows similar policies in place at the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, the City of Williams Lake and the City of Quesnel.