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Douglas confirms he was pushed

Fire chief forced out following survey on staff morale

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Reid Douglas was let go Tuesday. City officials refuse to say whether he got severance.

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Reid Douglas was let go Tuesday. City officials refuse to say whether he got severance.

Reid Douglas lost his job as the head of the Winnipeg's Fire Paramedic Service following a survey of less than 50 members within the 1,300-person department.

What's unclear is whether that survey contributed directly to his departure.

Douglas was dismissed as fire-paramedic chief on Tuesday, four weeks after receiving an initial departure offer that came in the wake of a spring employee-morale survey known as an employee environmental scan.

The contents of the survey have not been disclosed. Senior city officials have refused to say why Douglas was dismissed, other than insisting his departure had nothing to do with the pending release of a review into the controversial construction of four new Winnipeg fire stations.

City sources said fewer than 50 employees of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service -- most if not all in the department's head office on King Street -- took part in the internal survey, which was launched after the external fire-paramedic station review was underway.

The city has refused to say how many fire-paramedic service employees were surveyed -- or whether head offices at any other city department were subject to a similar survey this year.

"I've been asked to advise that, as your questions relate to confidential human-resource matters, the city has no comment," communications manager Steve West said Friday in a statement.

Douglas, who served as fire-paramedic chief from 2011 until this week, is expected to be one of the central figures in the external review of the $17.8-million fire-paramedic-station replacement program, which saw four new stations rise in River Heights, Charleswood, St. James and Sage Creek. Those stations include the over-budget and overdue new Station No. 11 on Portage Avenue and the new Station No. 12 on Taylor Avenue, which was built on land owned by Shindico Realty -- and once subject to a three-for-one land swap.

To date, 11 out of 16 members of city council have expressed concern about the timing of Douglas's termination, given the key role he played in the construction of the new fire halls. On Friday, Old Kildonan Coun. Devi Sharma, who rarely seeks publicity, added her name to the list.

"The reason for the audit was there was a feeling of the absence of public trust," Sharma said in an interview. "Making a staff decision on individual who is going to be part of the examination of the audit before the audit is even seen by council only furthers injury to public trust and accountability."

Sharma also suggested city officials must look beyond regular protocol to ensure the public nothing untoward has taken place.

"It's not just a human-resources issue. This decision forces citizens to question whether the people leading the city are making the right decisions," she said.

Other members of council have mused about dismissing chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl over the timing of the dismissal.

On Friday, the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg posted a letter from ousted chief Douglas on the union website. UFFW president Alex Forrest said he posted the message at the request of the former chief.

In the letter, Douglas confirms he was terminated, told his former employees he was proud of them and issued a cryptic statement about proceeding to "do the right thing."

Douglas also hinted he may speak publicly after the fire-paramedic-construction review is made public. "It is most important that all of council is first to have the opportunity to review and debate this issue in an unfettered manner," he wrote.

City officials also refuse to say whether Douglas received a severance package. The size of any departure package may be inferred from the 2013 compensation disclosure, a list of city payouts slated to be published in July 2014.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2013 A4

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