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Want to write a letter to the editor? Email editor@northislandgazette.com and we will publish it online and in print.

Letter to the editor: Former firefighter upset with treatment from Town of Port McNeill

“The time has come to pay the firefighters for their efforts.”

Dear Editor,

I was a firefighter for Port Hardy, #99, for three years and then Port McNeill, call sign 909, for 28 years for a total of about 31 years. I was disappointed by some of the candidates responses in the Port McNeill all candidates meeting, to the question pertaining to encouraging and retaining of new firefighters. The response by one candidate of getting new uniforms shows they do not seem to understand the scope of the problem. Shelly Downey referred to firefighting being something of a desired position, that would have been correct 25 years ago when I started but this is no longer the case. Back then, in some ways, it was like a social club. We had softball games with themes like tacky tourists and we hosted tournaments. We promoted dances like the Sweetheart’s ball, the Fireman’s ball and lots of other fun social activities. This made us a close tight knit little family with enough applicants that had the potential to join us.

When I first joined PMVFD interior attack and air packs were something relatively new. Extrication was much simpler as the motor vehicles were much less complex. Then came came the period of time where we were constantly fundraising for fireworks, extrication equipment etc. Standby weekends were introduced to ensure coverage. More WCB rules were introduced and it started becoming more stringent. Fires became more complicated as fire gases went from a couple of hundred to thousands. You no longer got smoke inhalation, you were chemically poisoned. More traffic was on the highway. Motor vehicles construction changed and began to get sophisticated with rocket fuel propelled seat tensioners, air bags, curtains. Training was increased and somewhere along the line the social club turned into a job, our numbers dropped and we were grateful for anyone willing to offer their time. Things have evolved and we are at that point in time where we can no longer expect firefighters to endure all the required training and disruption to themselves, and their families lives when the pager goes off, without paying them. We won’t keep them otherwise, and our town will be at increased risk.

The town council/administration finished the process of turning it into a job with the interference and firing of chief Walker, the removal of our bar fridge and the implementation of criminal record checks. Our personnel numbers are severely reduced, and many times in the last five years or so if we have had a call out on the highway and I missed the truck, myself (the old guy) and a rookie or two were the only ones in town for fire protection. It was especially bad a couple of years ago when we were down to 16 members, where we would normally have 26, and have been as high as 30. The last few years I have wanted to quit, but was hanging on because our numbers were so low and also for my own satisfaction as I wanted to achieve 30 years as a proud member of Port McNeill fire department. I handed in my pager earlier this year because the town requested a criminal record check, I asked for an exemption but was turned down. I felt insulted that after so many years of voluntary service they wanted me to give my fingerprints. They take your fingerprints when you are arrested, and it just felt wrong and made me feel like a criminal. Why did I need to do this to be able to serve my community, getting woken up at three a.m. to fight a fire or have someone’s intestines spill all over my gloves and bunker gear when they were extricated from a motor vehicle. I finally said screw this. The time has come to pay the firefighters for their efforts. It is a job and the firefighters should be properly compensated for their time, efforts and the disruption to their family life when duty calls.

On another note, I would like to point out that many other firefighters have received no recognition for their years of service. Chief Larry Bartlett was 33 years on the department and to my knowledge never received any sort of acknowledgment from the town council, also Lester Wilson who had 17 years in and held every position but chief, to Dan House who served 21 years with the department. There are many others deserving recognition for their service. I feel there should be something done to recognise these, and other firefighters years of service and commitment to this community.

I feel it is time for a change, a new Mayor and a revitalised council, that are willing to move forward and make positive changes in Port McNeill.

Respectfully

Doug Vitick

Port McNeill

* The views and opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Black Press or the North Island Gazette. If you have a different opinion, we request you write to us to contribute to the conversation.