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A mere three councilors will soon be charged with voting on the future direction of fire services in Mount Stewart in what has been a bitterly divisive issue in this rural community.
On June 3, councillors Ralph Dunn, Julie Ann McKay and Kristine Crann will vote on a motion for council to either contract East River Fire Department in a multi-year service agreement or to reactivate and rebuild Mount Stewart Fire Department, operationalizing MSFD once required levels are achieved.
The reason so few councilors will vote is council has shrunk due to ongoing conflict over fire services.
On March 25, Patricia Doucette resigned as councillor. On the same day, Maxine Jay-Doucette resigned as mayor.
Trevor MacDonald has since moved into the mayoralty seat but cannot participate in any part of the process of addressing the fire services conundrum due to a conflict with his uncle, Urban MacDonald, serving as acting chief of MSFD.
Here are some key recent occurrences and important upcoming dates in the contentious issue of providing fire service to the municipality of Mount Stewart:
- March 25: Council receives resignation letters from Mayor Maxine Jay-Doucette and Coun. Patricia Doucette
- March 26: Public meeting held by Mount Stewart Fire Department
- March 27: Special council meeting held to evaluate options regarding MSFD
- April 5: Council signs monthly contract for fire protection services with East River Fire Department; MSFD operations suspended
- May 8: Public meeting held to inform residents and receive input on future direction of fire services
- May 15: Closed special council meeting will be held to review resident input
- June 3: Council expected to vote on either reactivating and rebuilding MSFD or contract ERFD in multi-year service agreement
Deputy mayor Stacey Evans will serve as mayor during the regular council meeting June 3 but is not expected to need to vote.
On Wednesday, she provided a detailed presentation on the two options facing council, including a breakdown of the pros and cons for the municipality of being serviced by MSFD or ERFD.
Roy Main, who served as a special commissioner on the administration of Mount Stewart after council dissolved following a dispute over the MSFD in late 2017, did an admirable job as moderator in helping cooler heads prevail Wednesday among a gathering of more than 60 people.
Strong emotions surfaced near the end of the public meeting, though, as some residents conveyed a deep desire to see council give the Mount Stewart Fire Department the nod.
One woman said her heart would be broken if the MSFD were permanently closed.
“I have complete confidence in this fire department…I think they do a bang-up job,’’ long-time Mount Stewart resident Ron McInnis told The Guardian following the meeting.
McInnis feels it would be detrimental to the community if the municipality outsources to ERFD for fire service.
If MSFD closes for good, he says, another part of the community will be gone.
“We used to have a vibrant community here,’’ he says.
Evans concedes emotion can override reason in the thinking of some.
“That’s the nature of fire service,’’ she says.
“That’s why this decision has taken so long. You can almost never move forward without some kind of emotionality surrounding a specific fire (department) member, a specific set of bunker gear, assets here.’’
Evans says she was pleasantly surprised with the level of composure and high degree of interest shown by residents at Wednesday’s public meeting.
However, a great deal of division has resulted from what has been a drawn-out saga that has seen a council dissolve, a fire department suspended and neighbours pitted against neighbours.
“It’s been countless hours of trying to both get to the point of being able to adequately inform our residents of what the situation is (and) also trying to manage all of the emotionality that’s been attached to this for so many years,’’ she says.
“We’re trying to make an informed, common-sense, defensible decision and trying to unpack some of the emotionality, and it has been hugely challenging.’’
Evans says she does not like drama or divisiveness that has been on display in the past. She says only through collaboration and cohesive efforts can small rural municipalities like Mount Stewart exist.
She hopes fences will start to be mended once council decides on the future direction for fire services.
“The only thing I can say is I think people (will) come to terms with things whatever way the decision goes,’’ she says.
“I do think people (will) sit down and say ‘OK, we can live with this.’ I mean that is what consensus is about’.’’
Evans is also keen to move on from this heated issue that has been all-consuming and see council start to focus on other important areas that impact the municipality.
“We have basically not been able to advance any of the initiatives we are so interested in,’’ she says.
Good and bad
Here are the pros and cons, presented Wednesday by Mount Stewart deputy mayor Stacey Evans on behalf of council, for the municipality choosing Mount Stewart Fire Department or East River Fire Department to provide fire services going forward:
East River Fire Department Pros
- Fast response time
- Very good reputation, training record, fitness/youth of department
- Cost of service (approximately half previously incurred running MSFD).
- Adhere to national standards, new and up-to-date gear/equipment and training.
- Very active department with large group (29) of volunteers.
East River Fire Department Cons
- Less knowledge of department’s inner workings.
- New direction/change hard for some residents.
- Large district for coverage.
Mount Stewart Fire Department Pros
- Prompt response time given small geographic area
- Goal for young people aspiring to be recruits.
- Volunteers located in or closely around community.
- Availability of equipment to assist with extra activities.
- Long history and point of pride for community.
- Plans to operate at reduced cost to taxpayers in future.
Mount Stewart Fire Department Cons
- Inadequate/insufficient training among remaining/existing resources.
- Anticipated time and costs to reach an acceptable level of training among current and future recruits.
- Bad habits have persisted for a long time.
- Heavy reliance of fundraising to meet target budget and routine operations.
- Infighting within MSFD that led to dissolution/resignation of experienced resources.