Sackville Fire & Rescue is still in a state of crisis one year after Warktimes first published stories about low morale caused by persistent bullying, favouritism and harassment that had led to the resignations of about 17 volunteer firefighters over a five-year span.
It now appears that the department is still plagued by morale problems with not enough volunteers responding to emergency calls leaving fire trucks sometimes understaffed, slowing response times and potentially putting public safety and the safety of firefighters themselves at risk.
CAO Jamie Burke indicated during last night’s council meeting that the town has not yet implemented the recommendations that were supposed to improve operating procedures and give firefighters access to an independent complaints process.
The recommendations, which have never been made public, were contained in a report from the Moncton consulting firm that the town hired to conduct a workplace assessment of the fire service. The town announced it had received the report from Montana Consulting Group just over seven months ago, but has refused to make any part of it public on the grounds that it is a confidential, personnel matter.
“I can’t get into the details about the recommendations in the report,” Burke said in response to a question from CHMA reporter Erica Butler.
He added that there need to be fundamental changes to the bylaws governing the fire department in order to improve working conditions there.
“Our legal team is working diligently on a revised bylaw and we will be in a position shortly to bring that to council as well as the fire service,” he said.
However, Burke could not say when the revised bylaw would be ready.
He said he has not met with volunteer firefighters to explain what’s happening, but added that members of the fire department have “summoned” him to their next meeting on April 21st. Firefighters are believed to be angry about the CAO’s failure to consult them on implementing the Montana recommendations.
Burke also acknowledged that the are “rumblings out there” from firefighters about the prospect of a much heavier workload after municipal amalgamation on January 1st.
“The amalgamation process does not create any changes to the fire service,” he said, but added that with three fire departments under one CAO in the new municipality, people could certainly make assumptions about the resulting “challenges and complexities” that may cause.
During last night’s public meeting, firefighter Travis Thurston raised a concern over the current performance of Sackville Fire & Rescue.
He asked Deputy Mayor Black whether Fire Chief Craig Bowser reports on attendance at fires and response times to calls during liaison meetings.
Black serves on council’s liaison committee that oversees the fire service.
“I can’t say yes or no. I don’t remember if he talks about response time particularly or attendance to calls,” Black said.
“He talks to the number of calls that they have, usually what those calls are about and then often we’ll talk about the membership, just talk about how the fire department is operating, if there are any concerns, but not that I recall, not specifically to response time to calls or the number of people in attendance,” he added.
Sackville residents with radio frequency scanners can monitor fire calls including recent ones with response times from receipt of the call to arrival on scene ranging from 9 minutes, 13 minutes and 21 minutes.