CENTRAL, N.L. – Members of the regional fire department initiative had much to say after Lewisporte’s withdrawal from the effort.
“I was shocked to learn, late Friday afternoon (June 15), of Lewisporte’s decision to withdraw from the regional fire department initiative,” said Campbellton Mayor and chairperson of the proposed regional fire department board, Maisie Clark in a written statement to The Pilot.
The Lewisporte Town Council announced their withdrawal from the prospective regional fire department during their last regular meeting on June 14, citing a divide amongst participating parties on several key issues.
Clark wrote it was agreed the initiative would move forward at a May 17 meeting between the board of elected officials, despite smaller towns being unhappy with rules set by Lewisporte and what she called a “no negotiation” attitude.
A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was presented to all concerned on Nov. 30, 2017. Clark called the MOU less than perfect, but those involved deemed it acceptable. Everyone, Clarke wrote, had an issue with a revised MOU submitted by Lewisporte on Dec. 14. The disagreement centered around who would hold what position in the department and how it was voted upon.
“The smaller towns felt that a regional fire department should have a fire chief of its own and he or she should be the most qualified regardless of the position they held or the town they lived in,” Clark wrote.
Clark, on behalf of the regional fire department board, addressed comments made by Lewisporte officials to The Pilot. She wrote that Lewisporte had four department members vote on the name of the regional fire department while other communities had only one vote.
Clark wrote that under section 396 of the Municipalities Act, regionalization would not be an issue.
“Since all fire departments would now be fire stations, they would be under the regional fire department and not the individual municipalities,” she wrote.
Clark added that all communities had one vote and representative amongst the board and executive, while Lewisporte had two.
In a discussion with a representative from Lewisporte, Clark had the understanding that the only way Lewisporte would offer assistance to other towns was if they gave up their fire departments and went to a fee for service like Stanhope.
“The other towns met and found this solution unacceptable,” she wrote. “We have agreed to continue the initiative of regional fire services without Lewisporte’s involvement.”
Clark wrote the board is willing to continue discussions with Lewisporte, and wished to extend a welcome to them as Lewisporte did previously to other communities.
“I’ll be very honest with you,” said Little Burnt Bay Mayor and member of the regional fire department board of elected officials Laverne Suppa, “I felt like the Town of Lewisporte, with this regionalization, had kind of thrown the other communities under the bus so to speak, with the way it was worded.”
Suppa was surprised to learn of Lewisporte’s withdrawal.
“Just the way it was worded and everything,” she said. “It was very disappointing. It showed a lack of respect the way it was done to the other communities.”
Suppa said some mayors hadn’t been aware of the decision before it was announced in the media. She said if her correspondence didn’t come to her personal home email, she wouldn’t have found out about the decision until five days after the announcement.
Suppa said participating communities gathered for a meeting on June 17 with fire chiefs, and the plan is to move forward with regionalization, even if the venture may look a little different than what it previously would have.
“We decided, you know what, there’s too much at stake,” she said.
Derrick Luff, chairman of the Local Service District of Brown’s Arm and member of the board for the regional fire department, called Lewisporte’s decision disappointing.
“We thought it would be a benefit to Brown’s Arm,” he said.
Luff said while the regionalization effort continues, Brown’s Arm will focus on building up their own fire department and making sure everything is up to date. They will, however, ask Lewisporte if there’s any support they can count on.
“Basically, from Brown’s Arm’s point of view, we’ll do as we always did and continue on with our own fire department,” Luff said. “We’re still in support of the regional fire department if it was to go ahead.”