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Firefighters must sign 'declaration' to vote for new fire chief

In an attempt to heal wounds that have divided the Bonnyville Fire Department since 14 volunteers walked out more than two months ago, all firefighters casting ballots to select a new fire chief have been asked to sign a “firefighters declaration” st
Firefighters work on extinguishing the blaze at the Bonnyville Hotel fire on Dec. 16.
Firefighters work on extinguishing the blaze at the Bonnyville Hotel fire on Dec. 16.

In an attempt to heal wounds that have divided the Bonnyville Fire Department since 14 volunteers walked out more than two months ago, all firefighters casting ballots to select a new fire chief have been asked to sign a “firefighters declaration” stating their emphatic support for Darryl Shyian or Lawrence Ference, says Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority chair Ernie Isley.

Shyian and Ference, both veteran volunteer firefighters, were the only nominees who forwarded their names to become the new fire chief of Bonnyville's Station 5 Fire Hall. Nominations closed the afternoon of Feb. 8.

The winner following a closed ballot to be held March 1, will replace Steve Wojcik, who was replaced as fire chief following a non-confidence vote Dec. 21. Wojcik was on vacation last week in the Caribbean and could not be reached for comment by Nouvelle press time Monday afternoon.

Isley said the BRFA board decided to try and heal some wounds that have developed by insisting all volunteer firefighters eligible to vote must sign the declaration stating they will put personal agendas aside and support the new chief, no matter what.

“The declaration basically states they will commit themselves … and throw their full support behind” the new fire chief, even if the person they voted for isn't victorious on March 1, said Isley.

“They have to sign this declaration to be given a ballot and they have to be man enough to stand behind this commitment and show their full support for whoever the new chief is,” he said. “If they can't live with the final result, they have an obligation to resign and step down as a volunteer.”

It's time to stop the bickering and controversy and move forward with a new fire chief who has the full support of the membership, said Isley.

Both Shyian and Ference are “very capable men and very experienced firefighters” who are both qualified to take on the position of fire chief of Bonnyville's fire hall, said Isley.

All volunteers who are in good standing with the Station 5 Fire Hall as of Jan. 24 are eligible to vote.

Brian McEvoy, BRFA Fire Chief, said despite the recent controversy, the BFRA and its members remain a large group of dedicated volunteers who have always and continue to provide quality fire service protection to citizens across the Bonnyville and Cold Lake area.

“Never throughout this has anyone questioned the level of fire protection services being offered,” he said. “Our fire department has always been effective and will continue to be effective. The firefighting staff who did walk out did not have any impact on our delivery of service.”

McEvoy said he wishes good luck to both Shyian and Ference in their bid to become the new fire chief of Station 5 in the upcoming election.

Ference, who has been a volunteer for six years, said his goal is to provide strong leadership, reduce the friction that still festers among many members and ensure volunteer firefighters can work as a united, happy and safe group.

“I think we need some strong leadership because we have to mend some longstanding divisions between members young and old, the firefighters and the regional authority and the firefighters and BRFA board,” he said. “For some people to say everything is fine and everyone is happy is simply burying your head in the sand and ignoring what's been going on for far too long.”

Ference said the 14 volunteers who walked out in early December did so as a last resort because serious issues that had been festering for a long time could no longer be ignored.

“I was one of the 14 … and believe me, we walked out because we felt we had no other recourse,” he said. “These are dedicated volunteers and community people we're talking about and they did not make this decision lightly.”

There has been “too much complacency and arrogance” among the leadership within the BRFA for several years and it's going to take a concerted effort amongst the board, management and volunteers to change the culture, said Ference.

Personality conflicts and ego also played a significant role leading up to what happened in early December, said Ference.

“At the end of the day, what we all should want is a guarantee the community has full confidence in our emergency services,” he said. “The blame game is over. It's time to move forward and take a positive out of the controversy because many important positive changes have been made in terms of health and safety since December.

“As volunteer firefighters, we're ultimately all there for one reason and that's to protect the community as first responders. It's clearly evident there have been some serious shortfalls. If I become fire chief, I will work to address those shortfalls and bring this fire service together and work with the BRFA to ensure we can move forward in a positive way.”

Ference said he still feels badly for Wojcik and James Sharun, the former deputy chief, who were ousted in the non-confidence vote in late December, saying both men were hard-working and respected firefighters who didn't deserve the treatment they received.

“They had 55 years of service between them …. and their peers voted them Fireman of the Year in Bonnyville three of the past five years,” he said. “They did not deserve what happened to them.”

Ference said his greatest asset as fire chief will be to be a quiet leader willing to designate authority to others who are qualified to do an outstanding job.

“A good leader uses his good people,” he said. “I want to work with the board and work with Brian McEvoy to make a better fire department in Bonnyville.”

Ference said Shyian “is a good volunteer firefighter and great community minded citizen” who he has worked with for many years and he wishes him good luck in running for the fire chief's position.

The Nouvelle attempted to contact Shyian on numerous occasions last week, but were unable to contact him by press deadline Monday afternoon.

The BRFA has volunteers working out of fire halls in Goodrich, Glendon, Iron River, LaCorey, Fort Kent, Ardmore and Bonnyville. The BFRA also handles all 911 calls for emergency services to the MD of Bonnyville, MD of Smoky Lake and MD of St. Paul, while also handling fire calls for three First Nation and Metis settlements in the area.