Board of Fire Commissioners stands by Chief Williams, calls allegation ‘red flag’

The Orcas Island Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners held a meeting on Sept. 21 to address the Vote of No Confidence against Chief Scott Williams released by the International Association of Firefighters Local 3911 last week.

While this is something that would typically be held in an executive session, Public Information Officer Kim Kimple said Williams felt comfortable with having the discussion in public. The district’s attorney Matt Paxton of Chmelik, Sitkin and Davis was present.

Tim Fuller, chair of the board of fire commissioners, has 40 years of experience working for various fire districts.

“In that time I have seen dozens of votes of no confidence,” he said.

Fuller went on to explain that, in his experience, no-confidence votes are largely symbolic and there is nothing that directly demands action should be taken.

Despite that, he said, “It is a bit of a flag. There is probably something in there that needs attention.”

In the vote, all eight members of the union, aside from one who is on probation, unanimously agreed. The statement read, “Concerns regarding Mr. Williams’ competence and integrity for the job of Chief have been known without resolute action for too long. Our fire department culture is now toxic and the Chief’s job performance is negatively impacting members’ health, daily operations, volunteer response and the quality of emergency services on Orcas Island.”

To read the full statement, visit https://www.islandssounder.com/news/vote-of-no-confidence-in-oifr-chief/.

Fuller said he and the rest of the board felt blindsided by the vote as it seemed to them that it came out of the blue. The board decided to be careful about when they responded to the issue in an attempt to not fuel any gossip.

“Because of the experience I’ve had, I don’t see any value in engaging in public litigation on these internal issues,” Fuller said. “Of course, these internal issues can leak out into the service delivery and I understand that completely. But, I asked our commissioners to stay out of the comment section because it becomes a back and forth.”

He said that he didn’t think there was enough information to be able to make a productive response and described the letter of no confidence as vague but threatening. He is working towards discovering the details of the alleged toxic behavior and fear described in the vote.

“If we can nail that down then we can approach that in the labor-management part,” Fuller said, “We can do it in the development of policies.”

So far, he said there is nothing that suggests the board should not support the chief.

“We operate on facts, not broad-stroke assumptions,” said commissioner James Helminski.

Executive session was held at 6:58 p.m. in accordance with RCW 42.30.110(1)(g) to review the performance of Williams as well as the complaints filed against him. The session included Fuller, Helminski and commissioners Wes Heinmiller and Rick Christmas as well as Williams and Paxton. The meeting was adjourned at 7:28.

Union paramedic Alex Conrad told the Sounder last week, “We want the public to know that the people who keep you safe — members of Orcas Fire and Rescue — don’t feel safe.”

Conrad told the board of commissioners that there is more detail to come. While the board will continue to support the chief, for now, both Fuller and Helminski said that issues like this are taken very seriously.

“I can tell you that the mission and the values of this board is the safety of these members,” Fuller said.