Civil suit underway for former West Kelowna assistant fire chief

Kerry Klonteig is asking for $150,000 in damages as the civil suit continues

The decision to fire West Kelowna’s former assistant fire chief was “emotionally charged.”

Kerry Klonteig filed a civil claim against the City of West Kelowna (formally District of West Kelowna) in 2014, asking for more than $150,000 in damages following what he deemed to be a hasty dismissal. The gist of his legal argument was that he was let go with little notice for “an administrative driving prohibition,” and it’s caused him significant hardship.

Final arguments are underway today in Kelowna court in the case.

“Based on his qualifications, experience, age and the difficulty he will encounter in finding similar and alternate or alternative employment, a notice period of 18 months is appropriate,” his lawyer Terry McCaffrey, wrote in a notice of claim.

“On or about Oct. 6 2013, the plaintiff (Klonteig), while off duty, drove the fire chief’s truck, a district fire department vehicle, to a restaurant and a casino where he consumed alcohol,” the document reads.

“After leaving the casino late at night, the plaintiff was pulled over by the RCMP at approximately 1:30 a.m. and was required to provide a breath or blood sample to measure his blood alcohol level, which the plaintiff advised the district he had failed.”

It’s alleged the sample taken read above .08 and the Mounties immediately seized Klonteig’s driver’s license and suspended his driving privileges for 90 days. They also as impounded the district vehicle.

The civil suit is now before B.C.’s Supreme Court in Kelowna.

McCaffrey gave his closing argument Friday, saying West Kelowna fire chief Wayne Schnitzler and human resources manager Patty Tracy did not intend to dismiss Klonteig, but the decision came from CAO Jason Johnson.

He said Schnitzler was told to sign the termination letter from Johnson.

“He was fired because Mr. Johnson determined this was the way you protect the public and taxpayers in the district,” said McCaffrey.

The district also did not give Klonteig a reference letter.

“What this effectively did then, this manner of terminating Mr. Klonteig, it left potential future employers to then speculate what the real reasons were in why, in a career choice of being a firefighter, why would anybody voluntarily leave one department… speculation, of course, is difficult if not impossible to control by an employee applying for a job,” said McCaffrey.

“The CAO, Mr. Johnson, said this was a very serious matter, but he didn’t keep a single note, of a meeting, of a telephone call, of a discussion with council. Nothing. So we’re dealing with something that, as Ms. Tracy said, was ‘emotionally charged,’” he said.

McCaffrey pointed to the district’s policies, none of which Klonteig violated, he said.

“Because the district was so new it had very few policies, the policies it did have, none of them have been said to apply to the circumstances,” said McCaffrey. The fire department had its own practice for using the pickup trucks and Klonteig adhered to that practice.

The suit continues.

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