OIFR Union members release a ‘Vote of No Confidence’ against Fire Chief Williams

Orcas Fire and Rescue Union members release a Vote-of-No-Confidence against Chief Williams

The International Association of Firefighters Local 3911 released a “Vote of No Confidence” in Orcas Island Fire and Rescue Chief Scott Williams on Sept. 14.

“We want the public to know that the people who keep you safe — members of Orcas Fire and Rescue — don’t feel safe,” said Alex Conrad, a union paramedic for OIFR.

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/.

The Sounder reached out to Williams for a response. According to staff at OIFR, the department is not giving any comments on the situation at this time. Williams was named acting Fire Chief on April 18, 2017. He was officially appointed to the position in August of that year. He replaced Chief Kevin O’Brien.

Conrad alleges that he and many others in the fire department experienced harassment and bullying from Williams. Conrad started out as a volunteer firefighter in 2015, became a full member of the union in 2019 and eventually became a paramedic after going to school through the University of Washington at Harborview on behalf of OIFR. Being with the department since 2015, Conrad stated he has seen this become an ongoing issue for years and that it has taken a lot to get to this point. He said that all eight union members have, to varying degrees, experienced harassment from Williams.

“We don’t always feel physically safe in his presence,” Conrad said. “Multiple members have said they wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing their spouse or partner in his presence. They’ve told us that privately, yet they take no action publicly and that is very frustrating for us.”

Conrad claims that other OIFR members, including some volunteer firefighters, did not come forward for fear of retaliation from Williams.

Sheriff Ron Krebs was surprised by the Vote of No Confidence.

“We work very well with the fire department and we have a lot of respect for them. I honestly did not know this vote was coming,” he said.

At first, Conrad said that he and other staff members tried to not share the issue outside of the fire department, but when nothing was done to make a change, they felt like they had to make it public.

“We are kinda banging pots and pans to say, ‘Hey, we want strong, ethical, leadership because we don’t have it now,’” he said. “We don’t feel like our voices are heard, we don’t feel like we are valued, we don’t feel like the leadership of the department is running the right way.”

While Conrad wants the community to know what is happening, he does not want to disclose too many details until the board of commissioners gets to share its side of the story.

“It’s already a lot that’s going out to the public,” he said. “The way we look at it, right now the ball is in their court and we’d like to hear what they have to say.”

The Board of Fire Commissioners held a public meeting on Sept. 20, after the Sounder went to press. Visit www.islandssounder.com and read next week’s edition for an update to the story.

According to Board Chair Tim Fuller, the fire commissioners are not releasing a statement at this time, but likely will after the public meeting.

Overall, Conrad said he and his colleagues want a “well-run fire department so they can continue to ensure safety for the community. That is the end goal they are working towards.”

“There are so many challenges already facing the fire department, for example, COVID,” he said. “That’s a tremendous strain on any fire department. Charting the course for moving forward past the pandemic, just rudimentary things like how to manage the capital budget. It takes strong, competent leadership, it takes a leader that has the confidence of their team.”

Colleen Smith contributed to this story.