Members of the Bonnyville fire department voted to remove fire chief Steve Wojcik and deputy chief James Sharun in a non-confidence vote Dec. 21, in which details of who was present have not been made public.
Allen Mercier, who has spoken out on behalf of the firefighters who did not walk out, would not comment on details of the vote.
“I personally don't think it's a valid process,” said Lawrence Ference of the vote, who has spoken out for the firefighters who walked.
He said the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) board had asked those who walked not to return to the hall while the meeting took place, and because there is no formal process in place for such votes.
BRFA board chair Reeve Ed Rondeau said the board was not aware the vote was taking place, and it was just a coincidence that on the same day as the vote, board member Mayor Ernie Isley suggested to Sharun and Ference that the firefighters who walked out should not return to the fire hall right away.
“He just said ‘You know, it might not be a bad idea to hold off and try to let some of the wounds heal,' because this was right after the Bonnyville (Hotel) fire.”
Rondeau said it was just an after-thought on Isley's part and that it was in no way done to keep them from attending the vote.
Rondeau said the BRFA board will have to decide whether to accept the vote at its Jan. 27 meeting as well as finding out if there is a protocol for non-confidence votes.
“Obviously if there isn't, I think we need something.”
But he said the board might need to call a meeting before its scheduled meeting date to deal with these issues.
Sharun, who had been terminated without cause and then asked to return, said he didn't think the vote was legitimate. He still considers himself to be the department's deputy chief.
He said there has been no respect shown to the firefighters who returned.
“I don't think it strengthens the department,” he said of the vote, explaining how with 13 years of firefighting experience, he is one of the members with the most seniority.
Rondeau said the firefighters should “absolutely” have the right to hold a non-confidence vote.
“If you're not confident in the leadership that you have, not as an individual, but as a majority of the group or a large portion of the group, then obviously there's some concerns.”
He said he didn't know how many firefighters voted, but he thought off-hand those firefighters present outnumbered those who walked and who weren't at the vote.
Ference questioned which fire hall members qualified to vote.
“There was a period of time in a lot of cases where you just don't come on and are eligible to vote right away. In this case, I understand that people that just got recruited during the disruption period, they came on and they were allowed to vote.”
“Both sides need to put their pride aside to make this work,” said Sharun.