New Brunswick

Volunteer firefighters question Tracadie's decision to dump them

Volunteer firefighters, some with 38 years of service, are questioning why they were ousted from the fire department they helped build in the Tracadie area.

14 volunteers have been fired from the Tracadie area in last 6 months

Only one of the volunteers in this picture remains at the Portage River-Tracadie Beach fire station. From left are fired firefighters Jacques Basque, Aldelbert Basque, Yvon St. Coeur and Martin Richardson. Julien Godin remains a firefighter, but Fany St. Coeur no longer helps the department. (Gail Harding/CBC)

Volunteer firefighters, some with 38 years of service, are questioning why they were ousted from the fire department they helped build in the Tracadie area of northeastern New Brunswick. 

The Town of Tracadie says the volunteers didn't pass their physicals and received warnings before they were dropped from the roster.

Yvon St. Coeur, a founding member of the Portage River-Tracadie Beach volunteer fire department, and eight other firefighters received letters saying that since they failed to achieve the required medical and physical standard, they were fired.

But St. Coeur, 61, said he did pass his medical and is waiting to get an all-clear from his doctor to do the physical test.

"They never asked me any of this," he said of the town's actions. "There was no meeting. They just decide who they want to be there."

Fourteen volunteer firefighters have been fired from the Tracadie area in the last six months — eight from the Portage River-Tracadie Beach fire hall and six from Tracadie. 

 The Portage River-Tracadie Beach department became part of the Tracadie Fire Department after amalgamation in 2014 and works under the same chief. The Regional Municipality of Tracadie serves a population of about 16,000.

Yvon St. Coeur, 61, reads a letter from the Town of Tracadie telling him his services as a volunteer firefighter are no longer needed. (Gail Harding/CBC)

Tracadie now has 27 volunteer firefighters to answer calls, including the 10 who remain at the Portage River-Tracadie Beach hall. The town hired five full-time firefighters in mid-July as part of a pilot project.  

Tracadie Mayor Denis Losier said the new rules say firefighters need to submit a medical report to the chief and pass a physical test every two years. They also need to get a criminal background check every two years.

These rules have been in effect for about a year, he said.

The house will be burning, and me, I'll be sitting on my couch and watching the TV.- Martin Richardson, fired firefighter

Losier said firefighters had two warnings. Many of them met the requirements, but some "didn't want to comply," he said in French.

Some firefighters rarely answered fire calls, he said. 

But the municipality has to pay for insurance and equipment for the firefighters on the roster, Losier said. 

"They're our responsibility, we pay their insurance fees," he said.

"It's certainly not easy," he said, to show someone the door who has given 38 years of service.

"But when we put rules in place they have to be for everyone."

He said the safety of citizens and firefighters is at stake. The firefighters can try to take the physical tests and be reintegrated into their old department if they pass, he said.  

Felt part of a team

Some of the firefighters said the testing wasn't fair or uniform and others wondered why longtime firefighters should have to take tests they passed earlier.

St. Coeur was hoping he would be able to celebrate 40 years as a volunteer firefighter in 2020 but realizes now he can't.

He has until this Wednesday to turn in his equipment, including his pager and the keys to the fire hall he helped build. 

Five of the nine who received letters Dec. 5 are described by St. Coeur as being key team members at their department.

"We were a team here," he said. "We didn't have to tell people what to do. They just knew it." 

When the first firefighters were fired in July, town administrator Daniel Hachey said it was a move for safety and the good of the municipal structure but he wouldn't elaborate.

Hard to get answers

The Portage River-Tracadie Beach station was absorbed by the Tracadie Fire Department during a municipal amalgamation four years ago. (Gail Harding/CBC)

Adelbert Basque, who joined the Tracadie Beach fire department with St. Coeur in 1980 and helped build it, was told by letter in July that he was no longer needed because he didn't respond to enough calls. 

"I was working in Saint John," he said. "I have to work. But when I was here, I went on calls." 

Basque said that because he has refused since 2016 to be paid for fire calls —  firefighters get a $25 stipend for each call — he was not listed as having responded to them.  

Martin Richardson, a 19-year member of the department, said he's still trying to find out why he was ousted as a volunteer in July.  

"I wait and wait and wait for a meeting with Daniel Hachey," he said. 

Firefighters see risk to public

All three men, along with those still considered part of the department, are worried about what's going to happen when there's a call for backup and there is no one left to respond.

They said people living in the region don't realize the seriousness of the roster cuts. 

"The house will be burning, and me, I'll be sitting on my couch and watching the TV," Richardson said. 

The fired firefighters are planning to attend the town's next meeting on Tuesday wearing their department jackets.

With files from Jennifer Sweet

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