By Pat Grubb and Meg Olson
Fire commissioners narrowly avoided a discussion regarding after-fire cleanup issues at the Ridek storage facility at their April 13 meeting when fire chief Chris Carleton cited the district’s policy to discuss correspondence the month following its receipt.
After discussing a letter regarding the library, Carleton was set to present the chief’s report when commissioner Stan Riffle pointed out that the board had additional correspondence to address. “Do we?” asked Meursing to which Carleton replied, “Uh.” Riffle then said he had received an email from Ken Calder; the letter had also been sent to Meursing, Carleton and the county fire marshal.
Turning towards Ken Calder who was sitting in the audience, Carleton said, “The reason why I didn’t mention that, Kenny, we received that in April and correspondence we receive in one month, we take up the next month.” It is not known when this policy or practice began. Staff at the water and parks districts confirmed commissioners for those districts consider correspondence received in the month since the previous meeting at their monthly meetings. This was also the practice at the fire district under the administration of chief Nick Kiniski.
Swiveling back to the commissioners, Carleton asked if they would like him to get the letter. “You’re technically completely correct, chief,” said Meursing, adding, “I’m a little torn here, Kenny, I kind of expected you to talk about certain events leading up to the email in the open public comments period. We’d be more than happy to defer what you want to say until the next meeting.”
Meursing then disavowed any board responsibility to address the allegations raised in Calder’s email. “I’m well aware of what’s in the email, so is Stan, the chief is, the two commissioners; we would not be acting in our jurisdiction to discuss it or to make comment on it because it involves operations,” he said. “It would be a much better discussion and would be more to the point if you set up a meeting with the chief and the fire marshal and discuss the whole thing there,” Meursing advised Calder.
In his email, Calder said he had expressed his concern to both chief Carleton and assistant chief John Shields about which contractor would be used to pull down the trusses as requested by the fire marshal. He had been told by Shields that they were waiting on approval from the insurance company and nothing would be done until that was received. He reported that he went back a couple of hours later and found David Gellatly loading his excavator onto his trailer after demolishing the remains of the building.
“I was absolutely shocked and stunned that an individual was used who was not a licensed, bonded and insured contractor,” Calder wrote. “And I was sickened to see that my property had sustained further damage due to the actions of an inexperienced operator,” he wrote. Calder suggested that Shield’s choice of Gellatly appeared to be a conflict of interest due to the fact that “Gellatly is also John Shield’s boss at the transfer station.”
According to Department of Labor and Industries spokesperson Debbi Ade, they have no record of Gallatly’s registration as a contractor. His company Freedom 2000, which operates the local garbage service and transfer station, has a business identifier but is not registered as a contractor.
“Anyone who is doing any demolition or salvage needs to be registered,” Ade said. Once a contractor is registered with the department, she said, they make sure the contractor is bonded and has sufficient liability insurance.
Calder cited various state laws that had been broken as a result of Gellatly’s selection as the contractor. In particular, RCW 39.06.010 prohibits government agencies from contracting with unlicensed or unregistered contractors. How violating state laws could not be considered worthy of discussion by the fire commissioners was not explained.
Calder cautioned the commissioners that they needed to consider the issue of potential liability that was raised by the hiring of “non-licensed, non-insured individuals” because the district doesn’t possess “unlimited funds.” He agreed to arrange a meeting with the chief and fire marshal and concluded with “Yup, this is not going away.”
In a later conversation, Carleton clarified that the fire marshal’s office, not the fire district, made the ultimate decision when it came to work performed at the scene of their investigation. “Once the fire marshal takes over the scene they have authority. We are there in a supporting role,” he said.
Shields attempted to contact Jeff Peltier, a licensed contractor with the equipment necessary to do the job, but he was not in Point Roberts. Neil Harvey with Pacific Shore Contracting, who also has the requisite licensing and equipment, was not contacted. Harvey confirmed he was on the Point and available.
“The fire marshal needs to maintain a 24-hour presence at the scene, by law,” Carleton said. “It is a time sensitive issue to make sure they don’t lose any evidence. The fire marshal’s office made the decision and would have vetted any information regarding the contractor,” he said.
At press time the fire marshal’s office had not responded to a request for additional information.