West Kelowna  

Fiery fracas over firing

A former West Kelowna assistant fire chief is seeking more than $150,000 from the District of West Kelowna after he was fired for drinking and driving in the chief's truck in 2013.

Kerry Klonteig's wrongful dismissal lawsuit against the District of West Kelowna began in Kelowna Supreme Court this week.

Klonteig worked as a firefighter and assistant fire chief at the Kelowna Fire Department for 13 years, before getting the assistant fire chief position with West Kelowna in 2008. Fire Chief Wayne Schnitzler called him a “strong leader” who brought “a wealth of knowledge and understanding of fire service" when the hire was made.

In 2013, Klonteig was making an annual salary of $101,581, plus performance bonuses and benefits.

On the evening of Oct. 6, 2013, Klonteig and his wife went to dinner at Kelowna's Lake City Casino, where he says he drank 12 ounces of wine, half an ounce of liqueur, half an ounce of rum and 36 ounces of beer over dinner and while gambling afterwards.

Klonteig chose to drive home, in Schnitzler's truck, which was owned by the District of West Kelowna.

“I had felt OK, I had a meeting the next day, and we didn't have a vehicle of our own and I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the chief's truck, that particular vehicle, downtown,” Klonteig said in court Tuesday. “So we made the decision to drive home.”

Just before 2 a.m., Klonteig was pulled over by an RCMP officer while crossing the William R. Bennett bridge, and failed two breathalyzer tests, blowing over 0.08 per cent blood alcohol content.

“I admit I made a mistake,” Klonteig said.

On Oct. 9, two days after Klonteig was handed a 90-day driving suspension and a 30-day impoundment of Schnitzler's truck, Klonteig was fired.

In his notice of civil claim, filed against the District in May 2014, Klonteig argues his employer “failed to implement alternative disciplinary actions” and says they should have given him 18-months of notice prior to his firing.

Klonteig is seeking more than $152,000 in damages from the District, plus other special damages to be determined by the court, for what he feels was a wrongful dismisful.

On Tuesday, Klonteig told the court he has since applied for assistant fire chief positions and fire chief positions in Kamloops, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, White Rock, Nelson and Kimberley, and applied for a firefighter position in Kitimat. No fire department has hired him.

He now works at Superior Fire Control, an industrial fire protection company in Northern B.C., on a fracking site.

Klonteig says he had a clean 23-year record in the fire service before the 2013 drinking and driving incident.

The letter of termination the District sent to Klonteig states: “This is simply unacceptable for someone in your position whose job is to protect the public safety” and “this incident also reflects poorly on our department and the District.”

Klonteig argued the incident did not reflect poorly on the fire department.

“This was an individual incident that happened as a mistake on my personal off-duty time,” he said. “It's a reflection on myself and the bad decision that I made at the time.”

The trial is expected to conclude Friday.  

More West Kelowna News