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Q&A: Meet Whistler’s new fire chief

Thomas Doherty took the reins July 18
Whistler’s new fire chief, Thomas Doherty, started July 18.

Last month, John McKearney, chief of the Whistler Fire Rescue Service (WFRS), announced his retirement after four years in Whistler.

His replacement, Thomas Doherty, took the reins on July 18.

Doherty comes to Whistler from Campbell River, where he was responsible for a team of 34 career staff and 50 auxiliary members in his role as fire chief.

Prior to that, he served as deputy fire chief in Kelowna, Big White and was also a past board member for the Fire Chiefs Association of BC.

Pique caught up with Doherty to find out how he’s settling in to the new role in Whistler.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity) 


Pique: How does Whistler compare to Campbell River for fire prevention?


Thomas Doherty: It depends on the communities. Every community is different. So to make a comparison with others is sometimes not a fair assessment. When it comes to some of the prevention initiatives that are going on, I can certainly say that the FireSmart program here in the Whistler area is a model for the province. 

They’ve done an excellent job with what they’ve put in place with some of the programs and educational opportunities they’re providing the neighbourhoods. 

It’s impressive, [but] there’s still lots of work to be done, and it has to continue as we move forward.


Pique: What challenges do you see Whistler having with fire prevention going forward?


TD: We touched briefly on the wildfire risks. That’s probably one of the key ones for sure, the interface fires. 

Also, Whistler has quite a dense population in the centre of the village here, which kind of [fluctuates], so our resource capabilities to mitigate some of the larger incidences are a bit of a challenge for us, with the staffing complements that we have.

The department has scaled back on their code compliance inspections just for health reasons, and now we’re getting back to normal for that. I think we’ll probably see a little fallout from COVID and the limited coding compliance [inspections] that were done. So that will be a bit of a challenge until we get caught up.


Pique: What are some of the priorities you have in the new job?


TD: I touched a little bit on some of those already. The first thing I will do is get a feel for everything, do lots of interviews and one-on-one sessions with all the staff here, and look at different programs and processes in place. 

Make sure we’ve got adequate staff resources to meet the needs of the community going forward with some critical equipment replacement that needs to happen, and to make sure we’ve got a long-term replacement plan in place so there are no surprises, and also review our systems and processes internally to ensure we see any opportunities to gain some efficiencies there.


Pique: That sounds pretty solid to me. What are you hoping to build on from the previous fire chief’s term?


TD: The previous chief has done a remarkable job on relationships, and that’s the key. So that’s probably the No. 1 for me, to continue building on those relationships with our First Nations, other agency partners, and internal and external members. 

So if we’ve got solid relationships, we can build momentum and move things forward in a positive direction.

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