Town of Inuvik looking into complaints lodged against fire chief

1 / 2
Town of Inuvik looking into complaints lodged against fire chief

​Some Inuvik firefighters say they've lost faith in the town's fire chief.

At least two firefighters have confirmed that they resigned in the last year because of the department's leadership under Fire Chief Jim Sawkins, who's held the position since 2011.

Several firefighters say they have sent letters to the town of Inuvik about their concerns.

Inuvik Mayor Jim Mcdonald says the town is looking into the allegations.

"There have been some concerns raised with the fire department that we are looking at and reviewing," McDonald said.

One of the firefighters resigned immediately after an October fire that destroyed a home in Inuvik. The house burned to the ground in the early morning, just hours after the department had left the scene believing the fire to be contained.

That fire is still under investigation.

Rick Lindsay, the assistant fire marshal for the Beaufort Delta region, says his office was initially asked by the town to investigate the fire but referred it to the territorial office since "I'm too close with everybody involved."

Personal dispute

John Dempster, the other firefighter who resigned, left the department last November after an off-duty incident that caused him to file a formal complaint about Sawkins with Inuvik's senior administrative officer.

Dempster said it involved Sawkins yelling at his wife.

"After that I couldn't go back working for that guy ... I wasn't comfortable having a person flip like that," said Dempster.

Dempster said if Sawkins leaves, he'd go back to work.

"I just will not work for him," said Dempster.

When CBC reached out to Sawkins, he said he wasn't in town and that senior administrative officer Grant Hood would speak on his behalf about the allegations.

Hood confirmed that Sawkins is currently on medical leave.

When asked about the allegations against Sawkins, Hood would not comment.

Hood said he can't speak to whether he's received letters voicing concern because that would be an internal matter.

Training at issue

One current firefighter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, says the main concerns are over safety, training and transparency.

The firefighter calls it a "negative situation," saying firefighters have been asking for more hands-on training and raised concerns to Sawkins, but it's been to no avail.

"If we continue to try, there is always fear of reprimand."

While the firefighter makes it clear that they have been properly trained, and would "still follow [Sawkins] in a fire," they want more practical experience, so they can fight fires with more confidence.

"We aren't allowed to train extra on the side with qualified firefighters. We are just being blocked," said the firefighter.

The firefighter says that although many firefighters have concerns, they all still want to remain with the department.

"No one wants to leave. We take what we do seriously and that's why we wanted to see positive change in training, in safety, in proper orientations and proper hiring practices."

If you have a story to share with CBC, contact mackenzie.scott@cbc.ca.