PORT AU PORT EAST Mary Hynes believes that once word gets out that Port au Port East and Port au Port West-Aguathuna-Felix Cove doesn’t have fire coverage directly in their community, residents will be quite concerned.
The towns are without a fire department following a meeting of the volunteer firefighters on Wednesday evening over a municipal election issue. On Friday morning Hynes hadn’t heard about the issue but said it’s unsettling, especially considering the fact that children will be returning to school next week and there will be more than 100 students in St. Thomas Aquinas School, located just hundreds of feet from the fire department.
“What will get the firefighters back to the point where they will agree to answer fire calls once again?” she asks.
Hynes hopes the issue will be resolved quickly and the firefighters will soon get back to providing fire protection. The mass resignation is all over 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, like most small towns in the province, has only one ballot for its municipal election. Once the votes are tallied, the council itself determines who will be mayor. Firefighter Jeremy Simon said in support of having McCann run for mayor, the firefighters resigned.
The Port au Port East Town Council is planning to discuss the issue during a meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Mayor Tom O’Brien said Friday afternoon after discussions with Mayor Eileen Hann of Port au Port East, Kippens Fire Department would cover off Port au Port East and West in the event of a fire and Stephenville Fire Department would cover off Kippens.
“This is all part of a mutual aid agreement where the closest community helps out,” he said.
While he wouldn’t comment specifically on the issue that brought about the fire department members not providing coverage, O’Brien said it is obvious the people on council and the volunteer fire department care for their community.
“They need to get together and resolve the issue,” he said.
Vince McKenzie, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services, said the association has assisted councils and fire departments in the past in understanding each other’s role.
“It’s inappropriate for us to comment on it at this point and we’ll wait for the council or the fire department to contact us if they require our services,” he said.
On Friday, fire Chief Wayne Reilly of the Stephenville Fire Department said while he wouldn’t comment on another fire department, he said his department, which has had 16 volunteers since 1997, has yet to have political issues result in stoppage of coverage. He said the relationship between the Stephenville Fire Department and the Stephenville town council has been excellent during the years.
“Council has always been supportive of the fire department and more than good to us,” Reilly said.
Fire Chief George Bennett of Kippens said the relationship between his department and Kippens council is excellent and he has no complaints with the town council, staff or residents.