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Fire department to hold election for new chief

The Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) board has decided not to recognize the Bonnyville Fire Department's vote of non-confidence in December and will hold a secret ballot election to find a new chief.
Firefighters work on putting out the fire at the Bonnyville Hotel in December.
Firefighters work on putting out the fire at the Bonnyville Hotel in December.

The Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) board has decided not to recognize the Bonnyville Fire Department's vote of non-confidence in December and will hold a secret ballot election to find a new chief.

“It will be, I think, an open, transparent, secret ballot vote that no one will be able to criticize,” said BRFA board chair Bonnyville Mayor Ernie Isley.

Any firefighter who was in a position to respond to a fire on or before Jan. 24 is eligible to vote, Isley said, adding he believes this includes all the department's 35 firefighters.

Any eligible voter with five voters supporting their nomination is able to run for chief, he said. The board is looking at Feb. 8 as nomination date and March 1 as election date. The board will share details with firefighters at a meeting Tuesday night.

The board appointed Lou Scheper as the acting station chief. With nine years experience, Isley said he was the most senior of elected officers who had stayed with department.

There is currently no deputy chief position, and the board plans to discuss whether the position should exist within BRFA departments with fire chiefs likely this week, explained Isley.

The department's former chief Steve Wojcik said he felt disrespected by the board's decision. He said he wasn't aware he was being replaced in the interim until a customer who heard about it on the radio told him.

“It's like being kicked in the teeth. That's what you get for 22 years serving this community.”

He said he had always been told he was still chief and received official word of his replacement last Friday.

“I'm basically a doormat.”

Although Wojcik agreed with the firefighters who walked out, he said he supported both sides and never ceased to respond to calls.

Wojcik has not decided if he will run for chief, but feels he does not stand a chance if the other side is increasing its numbers and partly because he supported deputy chief James Sharun. He feels eligible voters should have been with the department for at least three months.

“We're glad that this is finally going to be put to rest,” said Scheper.

He said he also has not decided if he will run for the permanent chief position or of anyone else who will run. He said nominations will likely start after the department's meeting Tuesday night to discuss the vote.

“In a roundabout way (the board) upheld our decision on the vote of no confidence that we had,” he said. “So yes, the majority of us are indeed happy with the board's decision.”

Scheper added the department has had five to seven new recruits within the last two months, some who were inspired to join because of the Bonnyville Hotel fire. He said the department is always looking for new recruits.

“The more people we have, the better the response we can put out.”

Lawrence Ference, who has spoken for the firefighters who walked out, said it was reassuring that the board did not recognize the non-confidence vote in December.

The board's decision to hold a ballot vote is much like what he was asking for - an open, transparent process, he added.