Dead heat

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY DENISE PIKE THE COM­PASS dpike@cb­n­com­pass.ca

When mem­bers of this vol­un­teer fire depart­ment were choos­ing a new chief, they found them­selves in a dead heat with both candidates gar­ner­ing equal num­bers of votes in a two-way tie. Their town coun­cil had to break the dead­lock.

Glenn Lit­tle­john has had to make hun­dreds of de­ci­sions over the years, but none quite as tough as hav­ing to de­cide be­tween two cred­i­ble candidates for the po­si­tion of Fire chief.

How­ever when mem­bers of the Bay Roberts Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment found them­selves in a dead heat the Bay Roberts mayor, along with mem­bers of the town coun­cil, was forced to make the de­ci­sion for them.

Last Mon­day Feb. 1 the mayor, along with deputy mayor Philip Wood, told mem­bers of the fire depart­ment Clarence Rus­sell would be re­main­ing in the chief ’s chair. Rus­sell has been chief for the past eight years, while his op­po­nent, Doug Mercer, served as lieu­tenant and as­sis­tant fire chief.

“De­cid­ing who would be the chief was not an easy de­ci­sion and it wasn’t one coun­cil wanted to make, but we had no choice,” said Lit­tle­john. “ The depart­ment voted a cou­ple of times the week be­fore and each time it re­sulted in a twoway tie. With no for­mal process in their con­sti­tu­tion to solve the dilemma, the de­ci­sion then came to coun­cil.”

Both Rus­sell and Mercer are long-time mem­bers of the depart­ment. This made coun­cil’s de­ci­sion even more dif­fi­cult.

“Any time you have two highly qual­i­fied, ded­i­cated in­di­vid­u­als com­pet­ing for the same po­si­tion, it makes de­cid­ing be­tween them even more dif­fi­cult,” said Lit­tle­john. “ They’re both well­trained and bring a lot of good qual­i­ties to the

Dead­locked depart­ment and like all mem­bers they’ve both given count­less vol­un­teer hours. This was not a de­ci­sion coun­cil took lightly.”

Mem­bers of the Bay Roberts Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment first cast their bal­lots for Mercer and Rus­sell dur­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s an­nual elec­tion of of­fi­cers, Mon­day Jan. 25. When the vote ended in a tie, mem­bers cast their bal­lots a sec­ond time, but the num­bers stayed the same.

“ They were dead­locked,” said Lit­tle­john. “In many cases when a tie oc­curs and a sec­ond vote takes place there’s a good chance some­one might change their mind and vote dif­fer­ently, but that didn’t hap­pen in this sit­u­a­tion so they brought the de­ci­sion to coun­cil.”

Hav­ing to break a tie for the po­si­tion of fire chief is not a com­mon oc­cur­rence among town coun­cils.

“It isn’t some­thing many may­ors or coun­cils have to do very of­ten,” said Lit­tle­john. “ I’ve chaired hun­dreds of meet­ings on var­i­ous com­mit­tees and this was the first time I en­coun­tered some­thing like this. I also checked it out with sev­eral gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and they’ve never had to break a tie like this one. It was unique, that’s for sure, but also nec­es­sary.”

Re­spect­ful

Mem­bers of the town coun­cil dis­cussed the po­si­tion of fire chief dur­ing a priv­i­leged meet­ing Jan. 26.

“Coun­cil wanted time to re­view both applications and give it all some se­ri­ous thought,” said Lit­tle­john. “ They weighed all the in­for­ma­tion and in the end voted for Clarence.”

The mayor ad­mits he wishes the fire depart­ment had been able to re­solve the is­sue amongst them­selves, but also says they were very re­spect­ful of coun­cil’s de­ci­sion.

“ We knew go­ing into the meet­ing with them last Mon­day (Feb. 1) at least 50 per­cent of them weren’t go­ing to be happy with our de­ci­sion, that’s just the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion,” said Lit­tle­john. “ But they were all very re­spect­ful and de­spite the fact that half of them didn’t like our de­ci­sion, their fo­cus was on the depart­ment and their role as fire­fight­ers. It was all about an­swer­ing to the call and their loy­alty to the depart­ment and to the town. It was a very healthy meet­ing and I was truly in­spired.”

Es­sen­tial or­ga­ni­za­tion

Mean­while Mercer ac­cepted the po­si­tion of as­sis­tant fire chief.

“He was nom­i­nated for the po­si­tion and by ac­cept­ing it showed every­one that he was not only putting the in­ter­est of the depart­ment ahead of any dis­ap­point­ment he might have been feel­ing, but is also will­ing to work to­gether for the bet­ter­ment of the depart­ment and town,” said Lit­tle­john. “It was quite ad­mirable. Both th­ese men want only the best for the fire depart­ment.”

Huge re­spon­si­bil­ity

The Bay Roberts Fire Depart­ment has been serv­ing the town and sur­round­ing ar­eas for over 60 years. It cur­rently has over 30 mem­bers, two pumper trucks, two res­cue trucks, and one fire van.

Lit­tle­john says the Bay Roberts Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment is an es­sen­tial and valu­able or­ga­ni­za­tion in the town.

“Be­ing a fire­fighter is a very de­mand­ing vol­un­teer role and there’s a great ex­pec­ta­tion on those vol­un­teers from the pub­lic,” he said. “Not every­one can or is will­ing to take on the huge re­spon­si­bil­ity that comes with be­ing a fire­fighter where you are called on all hours of the day and night, have to at­tend all kinds of events and di­rect traf­fic at ev­ery­thing from funer­als to pa­rades. I’m not sure if our fire­fight­ers even re­al­ize how much they are val­ued and re­spected. A town like ours just wouldn’t be able ex­ist without them.”

Photo cour­tesy of Bay Roberts Fire depart­ment ES­SEN­TIAL SER­VICE - The Bay Roberts Fire Depart­ment has been serv­ing Bay Roberts and sur­round­ing ar­eas for over 60 years.

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