The chief of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is set to retire, in the wake of severe in-fighting within his department.
In a memo sent to all WFPS staff Friday, John Lane announced his last working day will be Aug. 13, followed by some vacation time.
"My emotions are very mixed on making this announcement. It has been an honour and a privilege to lead the WFPS for these seven years… There will always be more work to do, but 2021 marks my 40th year in emergency services. I look forward to fulfillment of family and personal life in retirement," Lane wrote in the memo.
The departure triggered a mixed response.
In a blunt, written statement, the union that represents Winnipeg paramedics called it an "opportunity for the City of Winnipeg to turn a new page and bring meaningful change to address the deplorable workplace culture at the WFPS."
"For far too long at the WFPS, incidents of racism, discrimination, bullying and sexism have not been appropriately dealt with. This tolerance of inappropriate behaviour has been allowed to continue and has created an often toxic environment for dedicated paramedics," said Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union.
"We’re hopeful that the city will use this opportunity to repair the damage that has been done in this workplace, and to set a completely new tone at the top. We wish chief Lane a healthy retirement."
In March, the relationship between city paramedics and firefighters appeared to hit a new low, as the union wrote to Mayor Brian Bowman to demand the immediate removal of paramedics from WFPS stations.
In a letter obtained by the Free Press, Gawronsky alleged paramedics have endured an "intimidating and hostile" work environment.
In October 2020, a WFPS paramedic accused four firefighters of refusing to help provide medical care for a 23-year-old Indigenous woman who had stabbed herself in the throat.
A consultant hired to investigate the allegations found the firefighters declined to give requested medical assistance and delayed the patient’s transportation to hospital by two minutes. She also found the firefighters’ conduct was likely motivated by implicit (or unconscious) racial bias.
In a leaked memo following that finding, however, Lane wrote: "The possibility of racial animus towards the ambulance paramedic that was raised in the report was determined to be unfounded." He later backtracked, telling media the finding was not "unfounded" but actually "could not be verified."
Meanwhile, a second union leader credited Lane with advocating for all members of the WFPS.
"Chief Lane was a strong advocate for (the) health and safety of firefighters, he was a strong advocate for proper funding of the fire paramedic program," said Alex Forrest, president of United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg.
On Friday, Bowman said he appreciated the outgoing chief’s willingness to address allegations of racism in his department and ensure staff receive anti-oppression and cultural competency training.
"It has been an honour and a privilege to lead the WFPS for these seven years… There will always be more work to do, but 2021 marks my 40th year in emergency services. I look forward to fulfillment of family and personal life in retirement." — John Lane
The mayor said conflict among WFPS members began before Lane joined the service.
"I think there’s long-standing issues between the leadership of two of those unions, in particular, that predate the chief’s term… and that will be an ongoing challenge," said Bowman.
Coun. Sherri Rollins, protection committee chairwoman, credited Lane for ramping up the city’s emergency management team, while also deeming department in-fighting to be a long-standing issue.
"That was the state of Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service prior to chief Lane’s arrival. There, for sure, were some bumps in the road," said Rollins.
Lane was not available for interviews Friday.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.