Firefighters from Silver Creek, Deep Creek Ranchero and Falkland, accompanied by BC Wildfire Service personnel, attacked a blaze in the Yankee Flats area on July 1, 2021. (Contributed)

Firefighters from Silver Creek, Deep Creek Ranchero and Falkland, accompanied by BC Wildfire Service personnel, attacked a blaze in the Yankee Flats area on July 1, 2021. (Contributed)

Vaccination policy for Columbia Shuswap Regional District staff, firefighters to remain in place

Director concerned about firefighter numbers for upcoming fire season

While it no longer requires the wearing of masks, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District is keeping its vaccination policy for elected officials and staff, including firefighters, in place.

At its May 19 meeting, the CSRD board received a report updating directors on the regional district’s COVID-19 response. It explained the CSRD continues to follow the direction of public health experts and WorkSafeBC, and the CSRD has developed a communicable disease prevention plan to replace its COVID-19 Safety Plan.

The report also notes the regional district has amended its safety requirements so that masks are no longer required and restrictions on in-person meetings, including attendance/capacity limits, have been lifted. That goes for all board, committee and “non-essential” meetings.

However, the regional district’s Proof of Vaccination Policy, implemented in early January 2022, will remain in place. The policy required all CSRD personnel to be fully vaccinated. This included union employees, permanent, temporary, seasonal and casual employees, co-op and summer students, elected officials, paid on-call firefighters and emergency management volunteers.

The policy’s application to the CSRD’s volunteer fire departments proved controversial, prompting some firefighters to take leave.

During the May 19 meeting, Electoral Area D (Silver Creek/Salmon Valley, Falkland, Ranchero and Deep Creek) director Rene Talbot said he’d received calls from people who’d served with CSRD fire departments who wanted to know if the vaccination policy would be lifted.

“I’ve had some fireman that have taken a leave and they would like to go back to being a a volunteer (firefighter), but they wanted to know what the policy of the regional district is and whether or not it would be lifted so they could continue doing fire services,” said Talbot.

CSRD acting chief administrative officer Jodi Pierce said the policy would have to come back to the board to be removed.

“The senior management team have discussed it and are still in favour of keeping vaccine mandates in place,” said Pierce.

Electoral Area F (North Shuswap) director Jay Simpson shared Talbot’s concerns and he made a motion directing staff to look at the possibility of removing that restriction for the next board meeting.

Responding to the motion, CSRD operations manager Darcy Mooney noted the policy doesn’t just apply to firefighters, and senior staff deemed it prudent to watch what is happening throughout the province.

“Just another quick point, we do have many fire services within the CSRD that are quite proud and happy of the firefighters they have there that are vaccinated. It’s not an easy thing and it will take some refinements and work,” said Mooney.

Read more: Two Shuswap fire chiefs take unpaid leave of absence in response to CSRD vaccine mandate

Read more: Firefighter, parent, supporters ask CSRD to reconsider vaccine mandate for Shuswap firehalls

Asked to clarify if his motion was just for firefighters or all staff, Simpson said the latter.

“I would move that we look at the policy in general,” said Simpson. “One of the concerns certainly is that fire season is coming up and every man on deck is going to be valuable. So that’s part of my consideration. But just in general, we are in this for the long haul with Covid and we could keep this vaccine mandate on forever and have some justification for it, I suppose, but as I said, you can get Covid whether you’re vaccinated or not, and I don’t think that there’s a good rationale at this point to keep that restriction in place.”

Other directors disagreed. Electoral Area C (South Shuswap) director Paul Demenok agreed the disease could still be transmitted, “but there’s no question this is the safest practice to have in place.”

Electoral Area E (Rural Sicamous) director Rhona Martin said she was concerned for firefighters who initially came to CSRD to ask that a policy be put in place.

“I recognize the fact that, as director Simpson has said, people still get Covid, but it’s my understanding the severity is not nearly the same as somebody that’s unvaccinated. So I will not be supporting this motion.”

When it came to a vote, the motion was defeated with directors Simpson, Talbot, David Brooks-Hill (Area B) and Terry Rysz (Sicamous) in favour, and directors Demenok, Martin, Karen Cathcart (Area A), Tim Lavery (Salmon Arm), Caleb Moss (Golden) and Gary Sulz (Revelstoke) opposed. Chair Kevin Flynn said he too was opposed.


lachlan@saobserver.net
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Columbia Shuswap Regional Districtvaccines