Salt Spring Fire Rescue’s chief administrative officer Andrew Peat has announced he will be resigning as of April 7.
This is Peat’s second retirement from the top administrative job at the fire department, a role he held for over six years in total. In the fall of 2020 Peat came out of retirement to help the Salt Spring Island Fire Protection District (SSIFPD) through some “interesting moments,” board chair Rollie Cook said at the district’s trustees meeting on Monday night. A news release from Cook noted Peat’s work on “the final stages of collective bargaining and preparing the groundwork for the new fire hall project.”
Peat rejoined the district after former short-term CAO Laurie Taylor was placed on paid leave in September of 2020. Fire board chair Ron Lindstrom and trustee Joanne MacDonald also resigned that month. Lindstrom and MacDonald cited concerns around the decision to place Taylor on leave and how spending on plans for the new fire hall was being handled. The two also criticized how the board was reversing course on decisions made, citing in particular a desire among trustees to reverse the one-employee corporate model the board adopted in 2019.
At the March 21 meeting, the board thanked Peat for his service as he prepares to retire.
“He stepped in at a very difficult time and helped us through keeping us on track,” Cook said. “Andrew has decided to retire a little bit early for health reasons and it is with a lot of respect from the board and a lot of appreciation that we accepted his early resignation.”
“As I am needed in the future, I will assist as I can,” Peat said, including possibly helping with the transition to a new full-time CAO.
The hiring process is well underway, Cook stated, led by a committee with support from the Greater Victoria Labour Relations Association. In the interim, fire chief Jamie Holmes has stepped up to be the acting corporate administrator and financial officer.
Vaccination policy and COVID-19 workplace changes were also shared at the March 21 meeting. The fire board continues to receive letters of opposition to a policy that came into force Feb. 28, mandating firefighters be fully vaccinated to continue in their roles or be placed on leave without pay. Seven letters were included with the March 21 agenda, advocating for the board to drop the policy, citing fears around the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines, freedom of choice and the effects it could have on the capacity of the department to respond.
Holmes gave a brief update Monday, noting that two paid-on-call firefighters had been placed on leave without pay as a consequence of the policy. The department had also seen one recruit retire as a result.
Cook said the board, which approved the policy in December, is following the advice of the province. The province has not lifted the vaccine mandate requirement for health workers, Cook confirmed with Peat at the meeting.
“We’re following the guidance of Dr. Bonnie Henry and the province and when she makes her moves we will make our moves,” Cook said.
The fire department is moving from a COVID-19 plan to a communicable disease plan. Peat explained the public won’t notice much of a difference as fire halls are still closed to the public. The main change will be that N95 masks are no longer required when people are away from their workspaces, and can go back to cloth masks if they choose to.
The department has been impacted by people either off work with COVID-19 or with symptoms awaiting test results, with 180 hours accumulated since the beginning of the year.
Holmes said there have already been 17 applications for the open position of deputy fire chief, and he expects more to come in with 10 days before the application closes.
The department’s newest fire engine, #205, is still in Fort Garry, Man. due to supply chain issues and some things that need to be fixed before the vehicle is released to the department.
Trustees and staff went in camera to discuss the new fire hall referendum project. Consultant Bruce Cameron noted that his firm Return On Insight had received 212 responses to a survey on the issue and another survey was available at saltspringfire.com/planning-for-tomorrow/. The second survey is “intended to supplement the representative survey and provide a way for Salt Springers to give their input and feedback about fire services and facilities,” Cameron stated by email.
The board also adopted a board and committee member attendance and participation policy Monday. The policy clarifies expectations of trustees to attend board meetings and sit on at least one committee, as well as prepare for meetings and assist with the mandates of committees. If trustees cannot attend, they need to give at least 24 hours notice to indicate their absence and should trustees miss three consecutive board meetings, which are held monthly, or two consecutive committee meetings, the board chair will discuss the issue with them.
“If a trustee or committee member is unable to commit adequate time to their position, they should be asked to consider resigning,” the policy states.