Dis­agree­able de­par­ture

Long­time Bay Roberts fire chief calls it quits af­ter be­ing ousted from top post


Ousted Bay Roberts fire chief Clarence Rus­sell is cry­ing foul over what he calls con­sti­tu­tional changes ahead of the depart­ment’s Jan. 27 elec­tion of of­fi­cers.

Dur­ing an in­ter­view with The Com­pass in the kitchen of his Co­ley’s Point home on Feb. 10, Rus­sell said there were what he feels, changes made to the con­sti­tu­tion a week prior to the elec­tion that he did not agree with.

Rus­sell lost the elec­tion to Adam Nor­man, and has since quit the bri­gade.

The con­tro­versy re­volves around the al­lowance of new mem­bers serv- ing a one-year pro­ba­tion pe­riod to vote dur­ing the elec­tion of of­fi­cers.

“It was brought to the floor a week prior to give them the right to vote,” said Rus­sell.

While serv­ing this one-year pe­riod, new fire­fight­ers are re­quired to at­tend 51 per cent of re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties to stay with the depart­ment, but very lit­tle else.

The four new mem­bers were given the abil­ity to cast a vote, which Rus­sell feels is a vi­o­la­tion.

“It states any changes to the con­sti­tu­tion must be made three months prior to elec­tions,” he said.

How­ever, newly minted Chief Nor­man said the ac­cus­ta­tions levied against the depart­ment are un­founded.

He said the con­sti­tu­tion does not clearly state that new mem­bers are not able to vote.

Be­cause of this, the fire chief said the is­sue was brought to fire­fight­ers by the ex­ec­u­tive.

“Where it does not say in black and white, the body de­cided to fol­low what we have been do­ing for as long as any­one could re­mem­ber and al­low the new mem­bers to vote,” said Nor­man.

While he was dis­ap­pointed to be dis­placed as fire chief, a po­si­tion he has held for the past 12 years, Rus­sell un­der­stands the voting process.

“Ev­ery­one has their demo­cratic right,” he said.

It was not be­cause of the vote that Rus­sell de­cided to cut ties with the depart­ment.

“If you can’t go by the rules, I don’t want any part of it,” he said.

Rus­sell said he would have loved to re­main a mem­ber of the depart­ment.

His two-plus decades of ex­pe­ri­ence would have been an as­set to both the new fire chief and the depart­ment it­self as it moves for­ward.

“I can’t get past the way the rules were bro­ken,” he said.

Rus­sell sug­gested an al­ter­na­tive ap­proach. He be­lieves the town coun­cil should have the author­ity to name a fire chief.

A solid bri­gade

The Bay Roberts Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment has come a long way dur­ing Rus­sell’s time at the helm.

He re­mem­bers work­ing with for­mer chief New­man Parsons in or­der to deal with the re­mu­ner­a­tion pack­age. When Rus­sell and Parsons started the process, fire­fight­ers were re­ceiv­ing some $10,000 in re­mu­ner­a­tion be­tween them.

That has since grown. In the past two bud­gets, the depart­ment has been al­lot­ted $30,000 for fire­fighter re­mu­ner­a­tion. “I’m proud of that,” he said. The depart­ment has added nu­mer­ous pieces of new equip­ment, in­clud­ing a state-of-the-art res­cue van, pick-up trucks, as well as an ex­ten­sion to the fire hall.

“We’ve also ob­tained land and built a train­ing cen­tre here,” said Rus­sell.

In one of his last acts as fire chief, Rus­sell and the depart­ment ac­quired a new lad­der truck for the depart­ment.

When it comes to equip­ment, Rus­sell be­lieves the Bay Roberts depart­ment com­pares favourably to the one found in St. John’s.

All of this was done with the full sup­port of the town coun­cil.

“When you’ve got sup­port of the town, you’ve got it made,” said Rus­sell.

Work sup­port

Rus­sell made spe­cial note of the sup­port his fire­fight­ers get from their places of em­ploy­ment.

When a call comes in, it is not strange to find more than a dozen ve­hi­cles move swiftly to the fire hall on Wa­ter Street in Bay Roberts.

Rus­sell works at the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts. He said if a call came in dur­ing the day, it was no trou­ble for him to leave for an hour and re­turn.

By all ac­counts, Rus­sell was as a ded­i­cated mem­ber of the fire depart­ment.

If you hap­pened to be around the scene of an ac­ci­dent or a fire, it was not strange to find Rus­sell there.

“I loved get­ting the phone calls and an­swer­ing the ques­tions,” he said.

As for his fu­ture, Rus­sell has as­pi­ra­tions of con­tin­u­ing to work in the emer­gency re­sponse sec­tor, and plans to seek em­ploy­ment as an am­bu­lance at­ten­dant.

Photo by Ni­cholas Mercer/The Com­pass

For­mer Bay Roberts fire chief Clarence Rus­sell has cut ties with the bri­gade af­ter be­ing ousted from the top post last month.

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