A municipal election dispute has led to the resignation of the entire Port au Port Fire Department. â Star file photo
PORT AU PORT EAST The Port au Port Fire Department is up and running again a little more than a week after firefighters stopped providing service to the community.
The fire department covers Port au Port East, where it is located, and the neighbouring town of Port au Port West-Aguathuna-Felix Cove.
The towns ended up without a fire department following a meeting of the volunteer firefighters on Wednesday, Aug. 28 over a municipal election issue.
The issue dealt with a request by Coun. Michael McCann to the town of Port au Port East to separate the ballots of council from that of mayor. The community has only one ballot for its municipal election, like most small towns in the province and council members determine who will be mayor.
The majority of the firefighters voted to close the doors to the fire hall in support of McCann but during a Thursday night meeting, the nine firefighters in attendance decided to return the fire service to the community.
During the time they were not providing the service, the towns were covered off through a mutual aid agreement with the towns of Kippens and Stephenville.
Fire Chief Bill Abbott said the nine volunteer firefighters, including himself, will be providing the service and that he hadnât yet been in contact with the remaining nine firefighters who were not at the meeting.
âEveryone that was at the meeting is going out now on a recruiting drive to try and get some more bodies. Weâre alive and well and things are going smoothly so far,â he said.
Meanwhile, the fire department should soon take delivery of a new fire truck.
Deputy Mayor James Cashin said the Port au Port East town council is really pleased the firefighters are going in the direction they are and back providing service.
He said during the meeting all issues were clarified and the firefighters and council are quite pleased to be moving forward and are putting any controversy behind them.
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âThe firefighters wanted information, clarification and us (council) to state our position so they could look at both sides of the coin,â Cashin said.
He said council is very grateful to the towns of Kippens and Stephenville for providing backup fire coverage while the issue was being dealt with. He said Port au Port East would be most receptive to responding the same way should the need arise their fire department would have to support them.
Cashin said in speaking to the firefighters Thursday night, he explained the costs associated with having an election. Itâs tough for very small municipalities to have to deal with that and quite expensive to run an election.
âItâs not just a matter of saying I think we will (have separate mayor ballot),â he said.
Cashin said another point he made to firefighters is that he has been on council for three terms and during that time theyâve never had more than five people come forward, so they havenât had to hold an election.
âI put it out there that if people arenât complaining, generally speaking it means theyâre satisfied with the job council is doing. Our town is well run with a small surplus and our property is managed well,â he said.
In regard to a separate mayor ballot, Cashin said if you had a significant number of residents that suggested thatâs the route they wanted to go, then absolutely council would look at it.
He said just because they had one person make one request donât mean they have to go with it. He said they had four of five council members vote in favour of keeping the open ballot and thatâs how democracy works.
Cashin said there have been no issues or problems up to this point in the townâs 60-plus year history.
âTo me this is now a non-issue, its dealt with, itâs done and weâll (council and firefighters) will move forward for the betterment of Port au Port East,â he said.
McCann, who was deputy fire chief with the department, said he has no problem whatsoever with the firefighters returning to duty.
âThat (closing the fire service) was a personal decision they (firefighters) made in order to support me. It wasnât one I promoted and I never at any time asked them to quit,â he said.
He said there was some talk in the community that he had asked firefighters to quit but said thatâs so far from the truth, itâs not even funny. He said thatâs people speaking out of ignorance and that he wasnât even at the meeting where the firefighters made the decision.
âI was at home, actually sweeping the floor in my garage and the firefighters came to my house and said they were done and were supporting my efforts,â McCann said.
He said from a council perspective all he wanted was to have the ability for the people to vote for mayor. He said they (voters) werenât given the ability to vote on a mayor in a separate ballot, so thatâs why he never sought nomination as a councillor in the upcoming election.
âThatâs the end of it for me,â he said.
McCann said he never resigned from the fire department and just relinquished for the next four years all the duties that came with councilor and part of it was serving as deputy fire chief and liaison between council and the fire department.
At this time, he is saying that he will put in another request for a separate mayoral vote for the next municipal election in four years time following the Sept. 24 election.
McCann said heâs not going back with the fire department right now and at this point in time heâs not doing any community work.
âIâm done with it for now until something else comes up,â he said.
McCann said a point he wanted to make is that the fire department in Port au Port always got along with council. He said that was never an issue in the town and the two groups worked collaboratively.