Embattled Spaniard's Bay firefighters receive hero's welcome at rally
Former chief Victor Hiscock and others refuse to make comment, on advice of lawyer
There was a thunderous roar when the 20 or so former Spaniard's Bay firefighters marched as a group into the crowd assembled for a rally at the municipal centre Thursday night.
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The hero's welcome was the clearest sign yet that the embattled former fire chief Victor Hiscock and his men have widespread support in the community of 2,600 people, despite accusations from the lone female member of the brigade that she's been sexually and generally harassed.
Roughly 200 people gathered for the rally, just two days after two-thirds of the fire brigade turned in their emergency pagers and walked away.
Those attending the rally expressed hope that the firefighters would finally share their side of a story that has cast a dark shadow over the department and the town.
It appeared that would happen, with many in the crowd saying the truth would finally come out.
That wasn't to be.
After about 40 minutes of standing around in the cold evening air, those gathered roared to life as the former firefighters walked into view.
There were cheers and hugs and comments of support from the crowd, but only a brief statement of thanks from Hiscock and his men.
After only a few minutes, they walked back where they came from, refusing to answer any questions from reporters.
A woman at the scene later said the men had been advised by a lawyer to keep quiet.
It was the latest in a saga that has crippled the town's fire department, which is now left with only eight members and a promise from neighbouring fire brigades to respond to emergencies.
The town was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday night after Hiscock and others abruptly resigned, bringing to a head a dispute that had simmered for weeks.
It all revolves around Brenda Seymour, the only female member of the all-volunteer brigade.
She alleged in interviews this week she has been sexually and generally harassed. She also accused Hiscock of mismanaging the department.
She said the playing of a pornographic video clip during a training course in 2014 was part of a pattern of mistreatment and she wanted it exposed.
While the controversy has cast the town in a negative light, there are no signs that its citizens are ready to turn their back on the men who quit this week.
A Facebook page established earlier this week in support of the fire department quickly swelled to 900 members.
And those attending the rally expressed unwavering support, saying the volunteers have done great things for the town and their absence is being deeply felt.
"This is hurting my dad," said rally organizer Kate Davis, the daughter of former assistant chief Randy Davis.
Many accused Brenda Seymour, who is also a town councillor, of being a divisive force on the brigade and suggested her motive is to have Hiscock removed so she can become chief.
One female supporter at the rally said the only solution was for Seymour to resign so a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie can return to the department.
Earlier this week, Seymour told CBC News she believes her gender and dedication are the reasons why she has been targeted by her male counterparts and their wives.
Seymour said she has been threatened, intimidated, overlooked for promotion and exposed to sexually inappropriate behaviour and comments, including the display of a pornographic video that a trainer from a nearby regional fire department said was shown as a joke.
Two sides to story
Residents of Spaniard's Bay say they just want their fire department back on duty.
Christie Saunders, whose husband is a firefighter in the community, said she knows he loved the work and supports his colleagues.
She said there are two sides to every story and the side of the firefighters should be shared.
"I guess there's a lot that's undercover that a lot of people don't really know about," said Saunders. "It's just not the right way."
"We just want our fire department back, that's all."
With files from Katherine Hobbs