Pincher Creek mayor Don Anderberg will no longer serve on the Pincher Creek Emergency Services Commission. The mayor announced his resignation during the town’s July 7 committee of the whole meeting.
Coun. Lorne Jackson will replace Mayor Anderberg, with Coun. Wayne Elliot serving as the alternate.
Mayor Anderberg says his decision to resign resulted from the termination of former fire chief Dave Cox last month. PCESC released a media announcement on June 18 stating Chief Cox was stepping down, but Mr. Cox says he was simply served a letter of termination.
“There was no awareness. They just sort of walked in and dropped it on me,” says Mr. Cox, who has fought fires for over 40 years and served as Pincher Creek’s fire chief since 2009.
Mayor Anderberg says it was necessary for him to leave the board because his trust toward the PCESC members was damaged. The first time he heard the commission was considering replacing the fire chief was at the meeting where they voted to fire him.
“I was kind of left out of the loop. I didn’t really feel too good about that,” says Mayor Anderberg. “I felt I could have brought some dialogue to the table in that conversation and I wasn't able to.”
In addition to disagreeing with the termination, the mayor believes the decision was made before the vote, which compromises his relationship with board members in other municipal governance settings.
“I’d like to categorically say that I’m not the one that put me in this position,” he says. “I didn't do anything nefarious. I think it’s important the process be followed and somebody speak out about it.”
“I’ve actually been put into a rather interesting situation to say the least,” he adds.
The other town representative on the commission is Coun. Scott Korbett, who chairs the PCESC. The MD of Pincher Creek representatives are Reeve Brian Hammond and Coun. Terry Yagos. Mayor Anderberg’s vote was the only one opposing Mr. Cox’s termination.
The other three members declined requests for an interview.
Another issue Mayor Anderberg has with the termination is his opinion that nothing on Mr. Cox’s record warranted his dismissal.
“If you’re having issues with someone, usually you document that,” the mayor says. “I’m not aware that there’s any documentation whatsoever, so I would say in that vein he did his job.”
Mr. Cox says he suspects his dismissal is connected to the cost of fighting last summer’s Snake Trail fire. Battling the blaze led to emergency services invoicing the MD for $64,270. The MD paid the bill and then invoiced the affected landowners, one of which was billed more than $52,000.
As a result of the public outcry, the MD postponed the payment deadline so the firefighting costs could be reviewed and hopefully decreased. When emergency services maintained the Snake Trail fire amount, the MD wrote off payment from landowners on June 8.
Nine days later, the fire chief’s contract was terminated.
Currently, the charge for most fire trucks that respond to a fire is $400 per hour, with each firefighter costing an additional $50 per hour.
The rates are set under the firefighting schedule that was established about five years ago by the PCESC, and are in the middle range of what other Alberta municipalities charge, says Mr. Cox.
“This was driven by the board. I put on the table what was done by other communities and they decided to put in place what is the schedule for fees,” he continues. “This decision was not mine.”
Although residents pay a municipal fire levy as part of their taxes, Mr. Cox says those funds cover only maintenance and supply costs. The fee schedule rates are needed to pay operating costs, inspection fees and eventual truck replacement.
Ultimately, Mayor Anderberg says ending Mr. Cox’s contract without cause removes a big part of what makes PCES a unique service.
“PCES has provided great service to the community, and I think we’ve got a really unique service,” he says. “The people that work really hard and care for the community, all that was driven by the culture that was created by leadership.”
Pat Neumann has been appointed the new fire chief until the end of 2021.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze