Luskville September 11, 2023
Two volunteer firefighters who resigned from the Municipality of Pontiac fire brigade within the past few months say they quit over a hiring procedure they believe was not conducted fairly.
According to the former firefighters, a woman who applied for a position on the brigade was recommended by the hiring committee for approval by council only to have her name removed from the list of selected candidates at the last minute under what they believe were questionable circumstances.
One of the firefighters who resigned is the applicant’s husband and the other is her friend. In bringing the matter to THE EQUITY, all three requested their names be withheld.
“All of a sudden, I disappeared from the list,” the applicant told THE EQUITY.
“Then, when I inquired, I was told it was due to a conflict of interest with my husband, which was so frustrating because brothers have been hired. Then it turned into pictures I posted on Facebook. I got told various reasons, but then it seemed to come down to who I’m friends with,” she said.
On Labour Day Monday, THE EQUITY reached MoP Mayor Roger Larose. He confirmed that the candidate had been recommended by the hiring committee, that her name had been included on a list for approval by council, and that it had been removed in the caucus meeting just prior to the council meeting.
Asked why the name had been removed, the mayor said it was because the applicant was married to someone already in the fire department, and added that she had also been taking pictures of municipal firefighters when they were on-scene and posting them on social media.
“This is why we didn’t want to take a chance on this. She was creating a problem,” said Larose.
Asked why the hiring committee did not reject her on that basis instead of recommending her to council, the mayor said it was new information.
“They didn’t know all that. That came out at the caucus meeting,” he said, suggesting we talk with Mario Allen, the municipality’s director general.
We reached Mr. Allen this past Friday, and began with a question about the hiring process for firefighters. He explained that there is a four-person committee appointed to do a pre-selection, they interview applicants and put together a list of recommend candidates.
“We ask volunteers on the fire department to be involved in that. They are the ones that are going to be working with those people. They can check their histories and if they have good references,” said Allen.
“It’s a pre-selection, it’s a recommendation that’s sent to me, and I can confirm if there’s any problem, and then after that, I’m the one that’s going to submit the list to the council for a motion.”
Turning to the specifics of the case in which a female applicant’s name was first recommended by the hiring committee and then withdrawn from the list for council approval, Allen said that he had taken her name off the list.
Asked on what basis he removed the name, Allen said that he had received some unfavourable references that raised some doubts.
“At that moment, we had a few bad references from even our own firemen. We had to clarify that situation, that’s why her name was removed,” he said.
Asked whether the concerns had anything to do with the fact that the candidate is married to someone who was on the force, Allen said they did not.
“I don’t know about the situation, whether they were married or not. I don’t care about that. The problem is that this person was involved with the activities of the fire department previously to being hired and it was a major problem with many firemen,” he said.
When asked about the mayor’s reference to the candidate posting pictures of firefighting scenes on social media, the director general declined to comment other than to say there were many factors involved.
“We received complaints in the past about this person from different firemen. There was no way I was going to impose somebody that doesn’t make the right fit,” he said.
“If they do have arguments in their personal life, it’s one thing, but there’s a chance that those arguments will be transposed into the department, as well,” the director general said, raising the spectre of problems that personal feuds between staff members can present to the functioning of the professional force.
“Team chemistry in the fire department is the most important thing. In the past we did have problems with people who didn’t get along in the fire department, and it’s really, really hard to get a good chemistry when they fight with each other. So, this is exactly what we want to avoid,” said Allen.
“There’s no time to argue on the scene. They have to act fast. The chemistry has to be at its best. So why should I take a chance and recommend somebody that is not recommended by the majority of my fire department, hide those facts from my boss, which is the council? It’s totally not fair, it’s totally not the way to proceed,” he said.
“So, it was my job to tell the council that this name could be a problem and it could be not a good fit, and they agreed to remove the name,” he said.
For her part, the applicant believes she got caught in the middle of a pre-existing feud among people on the force.
“Initially, I was welcomed with open arms. Then, all of a sudden, anyone who was friends with the wrong people had a problem,” she said.
“How can you run a professional service when you are making decisions on a personal basis?” she asked.
Prior to resigning, one of the firefighters says he was told that he would have to stay silent on this matter or risk losing his position as captain on the brigade.
On this, Allen says that the code of ethics guiding all the municipality’s firefighters prevents them from publicly contesting a decision by council, their employer. He says he did remind one of the firefighters that failure to abide by the requirements of the code could carry a range of potential consequences.
“Now these people, if they don’t want to follow the code of ethics, if they want to fight against the municipality, then they have to resign,” said Allen.
After 20 years of service, that’s what one of the firefighters did.
“I’ve been there for 20 years. I have never seen so many firefighters quit since this council came in,” he said.
The two firefighters who resigned in recent months believe that the management of the fire brigade undermines morale on the force, leaving many firefighters not wanting to show up on-scene when called.
“Sometimes you’re responding alone, or with one or two other people,” said one of the firefighters who has quit the force.
“Sometimes there may be six or seven when there should be 12 to 18,” he said.
In a series of resignations from the same brigade last year, several departing firefighters went public with their concerns over what they described as dysfunction in the management of the fire department resulting in shortfalls in how it was equipped and damage to morale of the team.
In both last year’s and this year’s resignations, the firefighters involved say they were told to keep quiet about their concerns and that they were threatened with various forms of reprisal if they failed to do so.
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