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.

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

Just Posted

Crews responding to vehicle fire on Highway 97 south of Williams Lake

A witness said the 150 Mile House volunteer fire department is attending, traffic lanes still open

LETTER: Williams Lake Dry Grad Committee officially cancels festivities for 2020

Socially distanced photos to adorn some local businesses

IG Wealth Management Williams Lake gifts iPads to Cariboo Place for residents’ use

With long-term care homes on lockdown during COVID-19, residents visit family virtually

BREAKING: Jayson Gilbert charged in murder of Richard “Savage” Duncan

Gilbert also faces first degree murder in the Rudy Johnson Bridge death of Branton Regner

RCMP seize stolen vehicles, equipment and firearms in Quesnel

Quesnel resident facing multiple charges

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Thanks for helping the Williams Lake Tribune continue its mission to provide trusted local news

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Nanaimo senior clocked going 50 km/hr over limit says her SUV shouldn’t be impounded

RCMP say they can’t exercise discretion when it comes to excessive speeding tickets

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

Most Read