Calgary

'People are going to die': Sundre dumps fire chief, sparks protest

The chief of a volunteer fire department in a central Alberta town was fired and some of his supporters are red hot with anger.

Ousted chief Marty Butts says 'old school' leadership style rubbed some the wrong way

Marty Butts is the former chief of the Sundre Fire Department. He was let go over the weekend after he put a volunteer firefighter on a performance-based leave of absence. (Rebecca Kelly/CBC)

Supporters of the chief of a volunteer fire department in central Alberta are red hot with anger, after the chief says he was fired and locked out of the fire station. 

"Five years ago, my son was in an accident and if it wasn't for the help of the Sundre Fire Department, he probably wouldn't be here today," Danielle Mallinson told reporters Monday at a rally in support of the chief.

"A couple of years ago, my stepdad had a massive heart attack, which he passed from, but when I got there it was the Sundre Fire Department working on him. Without them we don't have fire service. People are going to die if they need our fire department."

Mallinson is furious that the chief — a veteran firefighter of about 33 years — was let go over the weekend.

Sundre resident Danielle Mallinson supports the former fire chief, Marty Butts. (Rebecca Kelly/CBC)

"It's been building up for a couple of years now," former chief Marty Butts said.

"I am getting no answers, no support, very little support. To do my job properly, that doesn't work. We have to work as a team."

Butts says that while he does have hard facts in front of him, he believes the dismissal is related to his leadership style.

He says he was forced to put one of his volunteer crew on a performance-related leave of absence and that didn't sit well with town administrators.

"I am old school and maybe that gets me into trouble," Butts said.

"I am trying to get better at the way I come across, but sometimes you voice your opinion."

Butts added that there was likely more than one issue that led to his replacement.

A handful of supporters showed up to the town's administration office Monday morning to express their opposition to the decision and frustration in lack of answers.

"We have no idea because nobody will talk to us," Mallinson said.

"We pay their wages and we can't get answers. We get locked out of a building that we pay for. There's a note on the door saying we have a fully functioning fire department when we don't."

Terry Leslie, mayor of Sundre, says appropriate steps were followed in the decision to terminate the town's fire chief. (Rebecca Kelly/CBC)

The town's mayor says a lot of what went down can't be discussed without compromising privacy rights.

"We are grateful for the work and dedication of former fire chief Butts. His decades of service is deeply appreciated by the community and we wish him all the best," Terry Leslie told reporters after navigating through some angry supporters of the former chief.

"This decision was not taken lightly. The consideration to do what has been done is serious. There is a process. That process has been followed. There is division in the community, I am sure."

Leslie says a company has been brought in to consult over next steps until another fire chief can be found and mutual aid agreements with nearby communities are in place.

"I ask folks to be patient as we work through this process."

He says locks and access codes were changed Sunday and given to firefighters. A few told CBC News that they had not received them.

Sundre is about 100 kilometres northwest of Calgary.

With files from Rebecca Kelly, Dan McGarvey and Sarah Rieger

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