Eganville – When Bonnechere Valley Fire Chief Dave Murphy was blindsided a few weeks ago by members of council with questions about actions of the fire department he did not appear disconcerted, but in speaking with council last Tuesday he wasted little time expressing his deep disappointment and displeasure about the event.
“I would never do that professionally to anybody or personally to anybody,” he said. “The fact that it happened to me, without a chance to prepare for it, I don’t think that was right.”
Chief Murphy, who was presenting his fire report to council last Tuesday prefaced going into his report by discussing the incident which occurred the previous meeting.
“I’m very disappointed with the tactics that were used the last time we met,” he said. “I think the quote in the Eganville Leader saying blindsided was accurate.”
He pointed out he was called to a council committee meeting he does not normally attend and asked to prepare a report on the proposed grow op at Foymount.
“That never came up,” he said. “What came up were allegations towards our fire department. I think it was extremely unfair.”
There were two separate issues raised at the time. The first was the use of the drone in assisting with the search for a missing teen who was later identified as the son of Councillor Tim Schison. There were concerns expressed about how long the drone was used and the fact firefighters left before the teen was located. He was later found.
The second issue dealt with an alarm going off at Fairfields and a complaint by staff and board members at Fairfields about the attitude of senior firefighting staff at the scene which appeared to be talking down to Fairfields staff and Personal Support Workers (PSWs) employed by Marianhill Inc. of Pembroke who run the assisted living program at the 36-unit complex.
At the time, the chief defended the department on both counts, promising to bring a report back about drone usage and to speak to staff about the issues at Fairfields.
In responding to both issues last Tuesday, the chief said the department is comprised of men and women who are dedicated and hardworking and who sacrifice a lot for the community.
“Council needs to praise them once in awhile and not undermine them like that,” he said. “I was completely shocked by the time this was all over. I have been doing this for 20 years and have never seen this happen to anyone in a public forum.”
The chief said concerns could have been managed privately.
Regarding the drone, he pointed out all firefighters want every outcome to end well for everyone involved, but that does not always happen.
“We walk around with the baggage of outcomes that don’t go in our favour,” he added.
However, dealing with the public questioning was not a good thing for the firefighters or community to see, and they did watch it on YouTube, he said.
“I thought we were better than this as a municipality,” he said. “It is very upsetting this happened.”
In the future he asked for councillors to have “the decency to pick up a phone” or meet to discuss the issue over a cup of coffee.
Chief Murphy said the department has come so far in the last six years in terms of training and technology all while working on a small budget. He said being blindsided this way was not a good response.
“It’s been two weeks of not feeling well about this,” he said.
As well, the chief pointed out the drone program has been discussed six times in the last year at council and committee meetings, as well as a presentation and demonstration.
“To say ‘we don’t know what is going on with this’ is not fair to me,” he said.
Following the comments from the chief, Coun Schison, who was chairing the meeting, asked if anyone wanted to respond. There was no response from council.
Chief Murphy then clarified the drone operations in general. In his report he included 60 pages of information on the drone and department regulations, as well as a report from the drone operator the night of the incident looking for the missing teen. The operator pointed out BV firefighter drone pilots can only operate within visual line of sight as regulated by NAV Canada. The drone was in the air for some time and multiple batteries used, he reported. The operator said then the OPP commander on scene said they appreciated their efforts but the department was no longer required on scene.
The chief said they are looking to be approved for non-line of sight flight which would expand their operational ability.
Coun. Schison asked for the chief to stay for a closed session about an identifiable individual so he could comment freely.
“I don’t know what else can be said,” the chief replied.
“I would much rather say it in closed,” Coun. Schison replied. “It’s nothing anyone is going to get fired up about.”
The chief said he would meet with council in a closed session.
Chief Murphy responded directly to Councillor Brent Patrick, who originally raised that issue, about the Fairfields incident. He said he spoke to both senior officers on scene and neither recalled the incident as being that way.
“Part of the problem is we are getting complacent at that address because of so many calls there, so many false alarms, so staff was actually directing people that live there to stay in their rooms and not evacuate,” he said.
The chief said he is going to be at Fairfields soon for an inspection and will discuss the issue then as well.
“We can’t have staff telling people not to evacuate,” he said. “That is complacency and people will ignore the fire alarms.”
Firefighters have responded to Fairfields many, many times for false alarms, he added.
The chief said the comments about speaking down to staff and residents remain a mystery.
“We could not figure out where this poor treatment came from,” he said.
He also took offence to a comment Coun. Patrick had made previously about someone “if they throw on a suit to talk down to people.”
“We don’t throw on suits and become bullying,” the chief said. “We are professional part-time firefighters.”
The chief said he is more than happy to meet with the people who felt they were talked down to at this time.
Coun Patrick said it was not an isolated issue.
“When numerous people in our community bring it up to me as councillor, I think that is something I have to look into,” he said.
The chief said dealing with the matter in private would have been better than having this aired in a public way, he said.
“We appreciate our fire department,” Coun. Patrick said, adding he has always removed his feelings from the issue.
“I prefer not to work like that,” the chief replied. “Not everything has to be in a public forum, especially that kind of commentary.”
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader