By Andrea Arnold
A few months ago, when Pete “the Heat” Berndsen was hired by the Village of McBride as the Deputy Bylaw Officer for COVID-19 education and enforcement, he wanted to focus on the education aspect.
“Enforcement with a small ‘e’,” he says.
He was brought on board after the Province issued a ministerial order to ensure public health orders are being followed in B.C.
“We chose Pete because he was known and respected in the community,” says Village CAO Sheila McCucheon. “He has really great interpersonal skills. He was our first and only choice. He was available and willing to take the job.”
Berndsen says he approaches the job the same way he approached being an RCMP officer, with a focus on education. “I enjoy talking to people,” he says. “I want to communicate the message clearly.” In his role as Bylaw
Officer, his role is to distribute, either verbally, or by written notice, the changing regulations in a timely manner. Then, most importantly, provide clarification for those who have questions.
In the months since he was hired, Berndsen has had a few new nicknames added to his portfolio. “2-metre Peter,” and “6-feet Pete” are the more common ones. The names don’t bother him. In fact, they are quite appropriate.
The topic of most of his conversations has been social distancing and exactly what that means. Berndsen says most people seem to be maintaining distance. He has seen interactions on the street where residents catch and politely correct each other when a slip occurs.
“People are trying,” he says.
He admits to feeling the weight of this shift away from human affection.
“I have a lot of hugs stored up,” he said. “I told my wife, when this is all over, I’ll be bruised from so many hugs.”
He has felt very little pushback from the community during his tenure. He believes good, constructive conversation is the key to educate and, when needed, defuse.
“Some people just need to get something off their chest,” he said. “I let them talk, then explain the reasons behind the regulation and most often the end result is understanding and a shift in behaviour.”
One of the challenges has been keeping current with all the information. Through webinars and literature he has been constantly learning. His truck has become his office on wheels as he takes this new knowledge to the streets. More recently, with the re-opening of many businesses, his job has shifted from the focus on individual education to supporting those trying to make a living. He has been working with groups to create COVID Safety
Plans that will allow them to resume business. Berndsen has examples and guidelines to provide a foundation for each group to build off to create a plan that works for their unique environment.
As things open more in BC, the need for Berndsen’s services is starting to decrease. The Village is looking at cutting back his hours and days. However, he is still very much willing to support those who need his help in ensuring the safety of those around them.
“I’m here to help,” he said. “Either people can listen to the advice I give, or there is a guy with a bigger hammer. I’d rather deal with me.”
“Having 2-metre Pete on the beat was part of the success of the community to weather the storm,” said CAO McCutcheon. “We were in constant communication, and he was a major contributor to the Emergency Operations Centre Team.”
All Village staff have worked closely with Berndsen, and each other, to make the Village’s emergency operations centre a success.
Berndsen wants to extend a huge thank you to the residents of McBride and the surrounding area.
“I think that everyone trying to conform to what was being presented has helped us get through this together.”