Fire chief John Fredericks is no longer working for the City of Yellowknife and some firefighters are demanding that the municipality address a burnt-out force.
A person with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be identified, said firefighters were told that Fredericks was no longer employed by the city as of Oct. 1.
Fredericks has been fire chief since late 2016, according to his LinkedIn profile and media reports from the time.
NNSL Media sought comment from the mayor and some council members. All who were reached declined comment, stating that the matter is a human resources or personnel matter.
None could say who is running the fire hall.
Efforts to reach Fredericks through his staff directory number were unsuccessful.
According to the source, Fredericks has been away on leave for much of the past year and leadership of the department has fallen to three deputies under Fredericks, which has caused confusion, in-fighting and a lack of support.
In Yellowknifer’s Oct. 6 Fire Prevention Week edition, Paul Grismer is identified as the acting fire chief. The department includes four platoons of eight firefighter/paramedics in addition to an administration position, four chief officers and dispatch.
The city’s firefighters are represented by the International Association of Fire Fighters and the source said meetings have been held with the city’s senior management to raise concerns about workplace conditions as recently as Oct. 8.
“We want action and not just talk… It’s a very bad environment right now because we’re also in arbitration with the city. We just want to know…. who’s running the fire department? Who is making the changes? Who is the one that we need to go to and be like, ‘Listen, who’s running this stuff?’” said the source. “It’s chaos right now because no one really knows what’s happening and no one knows who’s running the department. There’s lots of talk but it’s the worst it’s ever been.”
One of the department’s main complaints is that the division has endured an extremely busy year with calls for service expected to reach 5,400 by the end of 2021. That figure is believed to be the highest that has been recorded in at least 15 years, as the department usually sees anywhere between 3,200 to 4,500 calls annually.
Part of the reason for the high number of calls is related to Covid-19 as people will call saying that they are experiencing symptoms of the virus.
“We will ask, ‘Well, what do you want us to do? We can’t take you to the hospital because you know you’re positive, so you just kind of have to let it run its course,’” the source said. “A lot of people will then do that or they say they’re not vaccinated. When we ask them why they are not vaccinated, they say because they don’t want it, so that’s part of the problem.”
The person added that the city has limited hours for the city’s Street Outreach van pick-up service and that a busy Yellowknife RCMP triages its responses and does not prioritize non-emergency calls.
Council’s latest decision not to locate a shelter service at the former Legion points to a lack of direction and has rippling effects with added pressure on the department, according to the source.
“The city and the (territorial) government don’t know who’s going to open up the next sobering centre or where it’s going to go and they want people out of the downtown core because it’s disgusting for the businesses,” the individual said. “So they want to blanket it and cover it and, there’s no actual treatment centre in the North for mental health addiction. These are all compounding issues that are happening.”
The city was provided with a series of questions on Oct. 8 regarding whether the city has a fire chief, who is in charge of the fire hall, what the implications are when a fire chief is not present or is on leave, and how the city would characterize the workplace atmosphere among firefighters.
Municipal communications officer Aimée Dentinger provided a statement on Oct. 12 but noted the city will not speak to personnel issues.
“The dedication and work of our fire division will never go unnoticed, as we rely on them to help keep our residents and community safe,” she said. “Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and especially at this time with heightened cases of Covid-19 in our community, the Yellowknife Fire Division has experienced increased call volumes.”
She did not put a figure on the calls for assistance but said the city is trying to raise awareness on its website about what warrants a medical response. A “Help Our First Responders” page was posted on the city website on Sept. 24.
“The health and safety of Yellowknife Fire Division staff is a top priority and support to YKFD staff to enable them to continue their professional, safe and efficient delivery of these key services,” Dentinger said.