UPDATE: Since publishing this story, Vonda Fire & Rescue and the Town of Vonda have agreed to enter mediation. Firefighters say they are withdrawing their intention of going on inactive status and will continue to provide full services during the mediation process.
A small town northeast of Saskatoon could be left without fire and protective services Thursday at the strike of midnight.
A huge rift between Vonda Fire & Rescue and town council has taken on a life of its own and residents say they fear for their safety.
“The children’s safety is always our first concern. So the longer it takes for firemen to come out the more at risk and more of a danger it is for our kids,” said Faye Urick, who works at a local daycare.
From the outskirts of town it appears to be a cozy community that about 400 people call home but despite its size, Vonda has some big issues on the horizon.
On Nov. 25, members of the volunteer fire department notified council that they would be withdrawing their services by Dec. 1 if issues with council don’t get resolved.
“The intention of these Fire Fighters is not to inflict unnecessary harm to the community that we have devotedly served at all hours of the day or night, but rather a reaction to the hostile and toxic environment that this Town Council caused.
This letter is to inform the council of the Town of Vonda that these Fire Fighters will not be held liable or responsible for any loss of life, property and any other situations that may arise during the time taken by the Town of Vonda council to resolve these critical concerns with the Fire Fighters.”
Father of four Michael Edling said he was concerned about what has transpired in town and like many others had very few details about what’s really going on.
“The fire department has a job to do as does council but without the fire department if something were to happen?” said Edling
“If something were to burn down, who’s going to come save it because I’m not qualified to do it. I can run a hose but I sure as hell can’t put a fire out.”
The majority of townspeople who spoke to Global News admitted to not fully knowing both sides of the story but that they had received the below letter from the fire chief detailing what has ignited concerns on behalf of the fire hall and what had sparked him to resign.
On Jan. 4, a firefighter suffered mental health issues after being called to a horrific collision on Highway 5 just east of town.
It was there that first responders declared a family of three dead. They were later identified as David and Amanda Savage along with their young son Tyson.
The firefighter told the fire chief he was “going to a therapist to understand his feelings,” after attending the accident and that is when issues between council and the department started.
“As far as I know, he hasn’t been fired to my knowledge but he has been relieved of his duties,” said Ryan Tyerman, a resident of Vonda.
The member is said to have sought help for his psychological workplace injury including consultations with his family doctor and a psychologist.
“According to the letter, he’s been through the therapy, he’s been to this person and that person and the council says he’s not fine to go back to work,” Edling said.
Hence why fire fighters in Vonda who cover an area 29 miles by 12 miles are now pushing back against council.
Global News requested an interview with the now former fire chief Brian Florizone but he declined.
Hearsay in the case, say some, may be adding fuel to the fire which is why two town councillors who were disheartened to hear what townspeople have been told about the situation or rather not told – decided to step forward and clear the air.
Councillors Susan Pelletier and Jeff Birch told Global News that council consulted with the Saskatchewan Volunteer Firefighters Association on what were appropriate steps to take when dealing with an injury of this type.
“He has been placed on an inactive list while his WCB (Workers’ Compensation Board) claim is being processed,” Birch said.
Neither councillor has gone public with what’s gone on behind closed doors out of respect for the individual’s privacy and his recovery – that is until now.
“It’s frustrating but we’re bound by certain rules and we’re following the rules,” Birch added.
They say they fully support the fire fighter returning to work and are disappointed by the drastic measures that are being taken by the fire department.
They say they just need the WCB to give them the all clear on this member and sign off this case. They would also like to discuss the matter with the member.
“We all live, work and play in this community so we’re protecting our members, our residents – that’s our responsibility and role as council,” Pelletier added.
Beyond this firefighter’s health, Pelletier says what is most concerning about the magnitude of these miscommunications is she fears no one else in need of mental health supports will ever come forward in the future based on how this has all unfolded.
A mediator is now being brought in to get the two sides talking and other surrounding area fire halls will provide protective services in the meantime so the public isn’t put in any danger.