A disagreeable departure for former Bay Roberts fire chief

Nicholas Mercer nmercer@cbncompass.ca
Published on February 12, 2014

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

Photo by Nicholas Mercer/The Compass

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 serving 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.