Nanaimo’s fire chief will be heading across the strait to become Vancouver’s fire chief.
Karen Fry, who has been Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief since 2017, will start her new position with the City of Vancouver as of Jan. 4.
Fry said in a phone interview Friday that the move to Vancouver offers more opportunity to continue efforts toward improving safety for the public and members of the fire service.
“It’s a good move for me and a good move for Vancouver, I think,” Fry said. “I think there’s a lot of stuff and a lot of work I still have to do in the fire service and I think a place like Vancouver’s definitely going to provide a bigger stage and opportunity to effectively make a bigger difference in public safety.”
Fry said what she’ll have to do first is to sit down with members of the Vancouver Fire Rescue Services’ administration team and get a clear sense of what they have already been working on and doesn’t plan on making “changes right off the bat.”
“The organization’s been under a lot of stress with the opioid crisis and with homelessness issues and COVID on top of that, so I think [I’ll be] trying to understand all of the different issues they’ve been having and how I can best support that,” Fry said. “Those are going to be some of my first points of action … I’m a big building code and fire-prevention person. I’m also big on the wellness of the staff and protecting them and making sure we’ve got really good training set up for our staff to make sure they’re prepared to go in to all of the hazards that they go in to.”
Fry said in Nanaimo Fire Rescue she’s worked with staff who are committed to public safety, but are also innovative, engaged in problem-solving and are not afraid to take on new challenges. She cited the new Fire Station No. 1, the move to have firefighters train up to take on the role of emergency medical responders and four-member engine staffing as examples.
“It’s crazy when you think about the amount of stuff that the organization, with support of the mayor and council and all the other fire chiefs and our union firefighters and prevention staff, all of the stuff that we’ve done in the last four years,” she said.
Fry is keeping mum about who she thinks Nanaimo’s next fire chief might be, but said the city is doing a search for prospective candidates and said there are “great staff within our department” and her preference would be for the next chief of Nanaimo Fire Rescue to be selected from among current staff.
“We’ve worked really hard on building capacity and, for me too, it’s really about making sure that all of the people that are left here definitely have to skills and ability and direction to be the chief, so I’ve been working really hard at that,” she said.
This will be the second time Fry has left Nanaimo Fire Rescue to advance her career with other municipalities. She started her fire service career in Nanaimo as a dispatcher before taking a position in Surrey where she worked up the ranks before she returned from Nanaimo and took over from former chief Craig Richardson.
As to why she chose to continue her career in Vancouver, Fry called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“Nanaimo’s been fantastic and even through my whole process I said to them I have no reason to leave Nanaimo because I have a great team and a great city and great staff, but it’s hard to pass up an offer like this. These opportunities don’t come along but once in a lifetime,” she said.
The press release noted that the City of Vancouver undertook “an extensive, nationwide search” to replace retired Chief Darrell Reid.
Vancouver’s deputy city manager Paul Mochrie said in the release that the city is thrilled to be hiring Fry to lead “a lot of important work” in 2021 with COVID-19 response and managing essential services.
“She brings deep expertise and a record of effective leadership in the fire service and she will be an invaluable addition to our city leadership team,” Mochrie said.
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-files from Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin