Former Sackville firefighter Kevin Scott says he was speechless when he heard about the town’s plan to scrap an independent grievance procedure in the bylaw that governs Sackville Fire & Rescue.
“Basically, they’ve flipped me the bird,” he said today in a telephone interview.
Scott was among 17 volunteer firefighters who resigned from the department in recent years complaining of bullying, harassment, favouritism and persistent safety violations.
After Scott got permission from other firefighters to release their resignation letters along with his own, Warktimes ran a series of stories prompting the town to hire the Montana Consulting Group to conduct a workplace assessment of the fire department and recommend changes that have never been made public.
“I don’t know how many people knew how hard it was for us to come forward with our stories hoping that something would change so that firefighters had a voice and would be heard,” Scott said.
He was referring to a proposed new bylaw presented last night to Sackville Town Council that drops the grievance procedure in the old bylaw, one that was never actually implemented, and substitutes a complaints process that would require volunteer firefighters to complain to Fire Chief Craig Bowser and then to Chief Administrative Officer Jamie Burke.
Many former and current firefighters told Warktimes last year that both the Chief and the CAO had ignored their complaints and that appeals to former mayors and town councillors had also gone unheeded.
During last night’s council question period, CAO Jamie Burke said the term “grievance procedure” is unionized language.
“The fire department is not unionized,” he explained. “So, we’ve used more relative and common-sense language that applies to our department in terms of how we operate.”
When asked why firefighters could not appeal to their elected representatives, Burke said he hoped they would follow the procedures outlined in the bylaw.
“Ultimately, if an employee felt that they were being treated unfairly, they have due process under a workplace harassment and violence policy that if a complaint is found against me, it goes to the mayor,” he added.
Meantime, several current firefighters have also expressed concern about the new complaint procedure as well as restrictions on speaking to the media and the use of social media such as Facebook.
The new bylaw, which is expected to be given first reading next Tuesday, says that any requests for information or comment from the media must be referred to the Fire Chief and that firefighters are subject to the town’s social media use policy which bans any commentary that would reflect badly on how the town is run.
Kevin Scott, who now volunteers with the fire department in Point de Bute, says the $27,500 Montana report isn’t going to help Sackville’s firefighters.
“As the Montana recommendations continue to come out, people will see that the majority of them give more power to the Chief and CAO and less to the firefighters themselves,” he predicts.
“Instead of gaining a voice, they’re losing their voice.”
Fire Dept. updates
Sackville firefighters have long complained that they’re paid less than minimum wage for their work during emergency calls.
Treasurer Michael Beal reports that they’re paid between $12 and $14 per hour while the department’s secretary receives an additional stipend of $1,000 per year and the deputy chiefs receive an additional stipend of $4,000 per year on top of their hourly rates.
He says these rates haven’t been raised since 2014, but this year’s town budget provides for significant increases retroactive to January 1st.
Beal adds the exact amounts will be known soon when they’re presented to council for its approval.
Meantime, Chief Craig Bowser says new recruits should be joining the department soon once their paper work is completed.
At the moment, there are 34 firefighters on the roster, well below the full strength of 43.
Sounds like a silence of the lambs….But the employees don’t have to state anything publicly, it’s becoming more and more obvious that the town is run by an out of control dictator. Don’t worry about processes if you are treated unfairly go public with it. Otherwsie, you’ll end up working in misery or quitting anyway, you have power, they are just trying to silence you. The citizens want to know how the staff are treated there, many of us already suspect not very well. So speak up! If you are treated badly let us know, let everyone know. Let media know, take your power back. I am glad Kevin is speaking to this.
What authority will the Town of Sackville have over the fire department when the municipality of Tantramar takes over? Why are new bylaws being introduced in the last months of an administration that will not continue to govern into 2023? This is confusing.
I Agree Harold. I haven’t seen this perspective expressed anywhere else so thank you for posing it.
The Firehall Staff should be well paid, unionized, cohesively managed and respected.
Maybe 2023 will see an improvement on life for this group of workers – I have no idea why ‘volunteering’ is such a good idea for something as serious as fighting fires and rescue work– its not child’s play. Volunteering is fine for animal shelters, soup kitchens, and knitting clubs but really – who wants a group of random non-professionals running the Firehall here? Not me. I think this culture has attacked Chief Bowser in a mob and failed in their mission — good! I happen to know the Bowser couple and they’re good people, straight talkers, and as with anything that happens in gossipy Sackville I’m sure they just wish the Bowsers would ‘go away’ but no such luck.
Try working with Chief Bowser…it’s his way or no way!
Not true at all fake name “BESTPAR” Craig is the most down to earth person you will meet and a great leader! Craig treats his members well. I have seen it first hand!
If that’s what you think..go ahead…but I do know different…I had to do work for him when I worked for the Town…
Although Sackville’s firefighters are classed as volunteers, they are actually highly trained to International standards in all aspects of firefighting/rescue/vehicle extrication and have to pass various written and practical exams as they progress through the different levels of certification in their training. A town the size of Sackville (or now Tantramar) could not afford to maintain a ‘professional’ fire department, which is why smaller communities throughout North America rely on the commitment to community service that is displayed by ‘volunteer’ firefighters like those in Sackville. The problems experienced in the last few years as reported by Bruce have nothing to do with the proficiency of volunteer firefighters in general but rather with serious management and morale issues reflected in so many resignations in such a short time period.