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The community got a confusing lesson in the pitfalls of cultivating public opinion on social media this week as the dispute between the local volunteer firefighters association (DFFA) and the City of Dryden reached a fever pitch in the newsfeeds of Facebook.
Confusion reigned as both sides seemed keen to avoid discussion of some key points that precipitated the dispute. Deputy Mayor Nick Beyak finally confirmed on Friday that the issue of enforcing city policies that banned alcohol in the Fire Fighters Association Room at the City’s Fire Hall 1 was the jumping off point to the dispute.
In a stream of press releases the fire fighters association re-affirmed its demands for the suspension of Fire/Rescue Services Chief Ryan Murrell and railed against the wrongful dismissal of three volunteer firefighters and a ‘toxic’ workplace environment. The dismissals reportedly took place during a confrontation in the Fire Fighters Association room as Murrell, Dryden CAO Ernie Remillard and two members of the Dryden Police Service were inspecting the facility to ensure it was in compliance with the Municipal Alcohol Policy.
“It is absolutely about alcohol,” Beyak told Acadia Broadcasting, Friday. “The city has never had any intention of closing their Association room, or re-purposing that room — that is their room. This all started because this council decided to take action, after years they had the courage to remove alcohol from that city-owned facility. The chief was instructed to do that, along with the CAO and that’s when all these problems started. There was not one complaint about the chief from a fire fighter until this policy was being enforced.”
Talks between the city and the association resulted in the reinstatement of the dismissed firefighters in an effort to resolve the matter with the caveat that all fire fighters sign a Code of Conduct document confirming they would respond to emergency calls and scheduled training sessions. Those who had not signed and returned the code of conduct by noon Friday, March 9, would be considered to have abandoned their employment with the City.
“We’ve chosen to communicate with the individual volunteer fire fighters,” said Beyak. “We were having talks with their Association and thought those talks were going really well, but they refused to go back to work even as progress was being made on some issues. We decided to take certain steps to find out what volunteers would show up to the best of their ability in the event of a call.”
Just how many volunteer fire fighters the city will have to work with, remains to be seen. DFFA Negotiating Committee Chair Darren Trist says the city’s use of the ‘code of conduct’ has only galvanized the association and that none would sign it.
“The DFFA stays strongly united and each member submitted their blank unsigned letter with a heartfelt response outlining their continued commitment, they unwillingness to “abandon their post”, but also their unwillingness to respond until labour concerns have been met. The DFFA has again contacted city council and asked to meet to resolve such concerns as soon as possible.”
Trist says the lack of trust between the DFFA and the City of Dryden is a major factor standing in the way of a resolution.
“The only thing the city has offered to the association is to, ‘come back and you have my word we will resolve these issues,’” said Trist. “Well the fact is we don’t trust them, how could we? They have always had the power to get us back in service, but they won’t admit a staff member made a mistake. As stated before it is unsafe for us to work under a Chief we don’t trust for a City Council that does not care.”