Midway firemen quit over radio frequency dispute

The chief and members of Midway’s fire department turned in their pagers on Tuesday night in a dispute with counci.

The Chief and members of Midway’s fire department turned in their pagers on Tuesday night in a dispute with Council on how to remedy their long-standing complaint that both the fire department and West Boundary Highway Rescue (WBHR) share the same emergency radio frequency.

Mayor Randy Kappes confirmed that he had received a phone call from Fire Chief Walter Osellame on Tuesday night informing him of the department’s decision.

The issue has been ongoing for over two years, with the fire department making repeated requests for a meeting between the two departments, the village, regional district fire services – who manage the radio system – and technicians.

That meeting finally happened last Thursday, April 11.

Village Administrator Penny Feist told the Times that Council discussed the report from the Thursday meeting in an in-camera meeting on Monday night and gave staff three directions:

All radios and pagers are to be tested to see if any technical issues can be resolved.

To ensure the proper radio procedures of the emergency radio from both Midway volunteer fire deparment and WBHR are followed, emergency communication training is to be set up and offered by a qualified instructor other than the commanders of the two departments.

A simplex TAC channel is to be used when emergency crews are on site.

“The members feel their situation is unsafe the way that our communication protocol is,” Osellame told the Times on Wednesday morning.

“At the meeting on Thursday I told them what the problem was, my concerns for the members and told them how simple the solution would be, which is to turn it back to the way it was,” added Osellame.

“We have tried this for almost three years now and it is not working. The membership is not feeling safe, we’ve already had two cases of crossover.”

The fire chief said when Feist told him of council’s decision he told her that he would communicate Council’s decision to his membership but would not be complying personally because he didn’t feel it was the appropriate step.

“I am not going to compromise my own integrity or be responsible for members who get injured because people who are unfamiliar with protocols and fire service are making these decisions for us. These decisions were made without any consultations with the fire department or the fire chief officers. It just happened one day and that should not occur.”

When asked what it would take to get the crew to pick up their pagers again he said, “A simple fix – go back to the system the way it was before; figure it out for West Boundary road rescue or whatever it is you want to do, and we will carry on training and doing a good job like we’ve done over time. We are up to 35 members now. Now we are down to zero.”

The entire department, including the Kettle Valley members have resigned.

Mayor Randy Kappes issued the following statement on Wednesday morning:

“This makes me very sad and concerned. This Village means so much to council and the Fire department and both have worked very hard to keep Midway safe and prosperous. I can’t comment further until Council has had a chance to meet, however the Greenwood Fire Department has agreed, through our mutual aid agreement, to provide fire coverage for the time being.”