The people of Andrew are left without a local fire department after the village’s volunteer firefighters resigned en masse, two months after the fire chief lost his job.
The village council was caught off guard when the firefighters unexpectedly announced their resignation during a council meeting Wednesday.
'Two months without a leader. Two months without having the administration talk to them.' - Barry Goertz, former fire chief
“The guys decided they could not deal with the village of Andrew,” said Barry Goertz, Andrew’s former fire chief.
The problem began in the beginning of December, when Goertz was unexpectedly dismissed from the job that he held for the past 8 years. He said the decision came as a surprise and that he initially could not get an answer as to why he was demoted.
He said it took a week for the village to inform him he had been dismissed because of administrative reasons — such as not providing training records, not filing fire reports and not appointing a deputy fire chief.
Goertz said many of the tasks had been completed, but that he wasn’t given the chance to contest the accusations. While he was demoted from chief, he was able to remain a firefighter.
He said the resignations were not a reaction to his firing specifically, but rather grew out of frustrations within the department when the council did not immediately replace him. Firefighters felt the department was left without direction, and that the village council wasn’t communicating with the volunteers. Despite repeated calls for more information, Goertz said the council only met with firefighters once.
“All the guys wanted to know was what was the direction, what was the plan,” he said.
“They want to support this village. I mean, two months without a leader. Two months without having the administration talk to them.”
Goertz believes the volunteers did not plan to resign before the meeting, but were pushed to quit after the village council appointed a new fire chief without consulting the department.
The village’s mayor denies the firefighters were left in the dark and says the council was in constant contact.
Heather Tait said the council was caught off guard by the resignations, and had been updating volunteers on the future of the fire department.
“We had been keeping in communication with them. We were really working together to try and keep the lines of communications open,” she said.
Tait argued the volunteers’ concerns were not over communication -- instead, firefighters wanted responsibility for the department to be handled by Lamont County, instead of the village.
Regionalizing the fire department would be impossible immediately, Tait said, because Andrew had just signed a new protection agreement with the county, and wouldn't be prepared for such talks so soon.
Permanent solution needed, residents say
For now, the surrounding communities of Mundare and Smoky Lake are providing fire protection to the village, northeast of Edmonton.
“If there happens to be an emergency situation, a fire or something... they would respond,” Tait said.
That is only a temporary solution, she added. Andrew is now talking with Lamont County to develop a long term permanent fire protection plan to keep everyone safe.
She said in the meantime, the lack of a fire department is not putting people at risk and that neighbouring towns are close enough that fire crews can respond in minutes.
“Our main focus is on the safety and security of the (village),” Tait said.
“Everyone is safe and there is no reason for the fear that I understand is out there.”
Still, for the small community, the lack of a local fire department has many worried. Sheila Lupul, who lives in Andrew, said the village needs to find a solution quickly.
“I’d want to see us have a fire department,” she said.
“I want to have some comfort that we are protected in the event of an emergency.”