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New fire chief backs deputy

Peter Crnogorac
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 03/06) - It hasn't taken long for new Yellowknife fire Chief Reid Douglas to make his opinions known on deputy chief Darcy Hernblad.

"I stand 100 per cent behind him," said Douglas at the Yellowknife fire station on Oct. 30.

NNSL Photo/graphic

New Yellowknife fire Chief Reid Douglas said that deputy fire chief Darcy Hernblad has been given a "raw-deal" by local media and that he stands 100 per cent behind him. - Peter Crnogorac/NNSL photo

Hernblad had safety-related charges stayed against him on Oct. 6 in relation to the deaths of two Yellowknife firefighters who lost their lives when a burning shed collapsed on them on March 17, 2005.

However, in a deal reached with the Workers' Compensation Board, a competency test for Hernblad was ordered.

Douglas has been on the job for a little over two-weeks.

He said from his office at the department on Monday that he believes the local media have been unfair to Hernblad.

"I think the deputy has been given a raw deal," he said.

"He's a much more competent individual than he's been portrayed (by media). I have every bit of confidence in his ability.

"Remember, there's always two sides to every story and somewhere in the middle is the truth."

Hernblad was in command of the scene when firefighters Cyril Fyfe and Kevin Olson died while battling a fire in a saw shed at the Home Building Centre on March 17, 2005.

Hernblad had ordered four firefighters onto the shed's roof in order to cut ventilation holes in it.

When the order was followed by the four firefighters, the roof collapsed and killed Fyfe and Olson, who were battling the fire from inside.

The WCB charged Hernblad in March 2006 under the NWT Safety Act for failing to provide adequate safety training and failing to take reasonable precautions in the deaths of Fyfe and Olson.

Not long after he was charged, Hernblad was promoted to acting fire chief to replace Mick Beauchamp, who resigned after he was charged under the Safety Act. The charges against Beauchamp were later stayed.

Douglas comes to Yellowknife with a solid past as a firefighter and chief. He began his career in 1974 with the Winnipeg Fire Department. He left that department as assistant deputy fire chief in 2000.

That same year, he became fire chief of North Vancouver and held the position until 2005.

His most recent job was with the Justice Institute of British Columbia, which is a training and education institute for programs related to fire, police, emergency medical services and other public safety divisions.

Douglas worked in the fire safety section of the institute.

However, he does not believe his last role is the main reason he was hired by the City of Yellowknife.

"I believe the decision was made more because of my experience as a fire chief, and my multi-faceted, well-rounded background," he said.

Douglas added that the media's scrutiny on the tragedy has affected many people associated with Hernblad.

"Yellowknife is not a big community. He's (Hernblad) a long-term resident," said Douglas. "That type of accusation impacts his family and friends and puts unfair stress on him and the department."

Douglas said he is still learning about his position.

He added that he has been pleased with the support from Mayor Gord Van Tighem and council members.

"The city has been very open, and very supportive," he said. "They have no hidden agendas."