Senior member quits Edgewater FD over firings
A decision by the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) to relieve two volunteer firefighters from their positions with the Edgewater Fire Department has created ripples that threaten to create a membership crisis.
Dan and Tammy Tutte were relieved from their volunteer service after more than 10 years serving on the department and the backlash has led to a 20-year volunteer tendering her resignation, with three more volunteers possibly ready to depart, as well.
“It is with great disappointment and sadness that I must resign my position from the Edgewater Volunteer Fire Department after more than 20 years of service. I can no longer continue to serve on the department where there is no trust, no support for the volunteers and bullies are given their way,” stated Elke Petersen in her resignation letter to the RDEK and Electoral Area G Director Gerry Wilkie.
“Dan and Tammy Tutte were not given any notice, they were not previously reprimanded for bad behavior, in fact at no time were they told there was an issue of this magnitude that would constitute their removal from the fire department if it continued,” Petersen continued.
“There was no discussion on how this matter could be rectified, no consideration was given to the other volunteers who work closely together; none of our opinions were taken into account. They were in fact fired because a group of bullies have decided that they should decide who is allowed to volunteer in our community.
These bullies have made it clear they would not step up to volunteer unless Dan and Tammy Tutte were no longer on the department. Anyone who wants to volunteer, who wants to help, who wants to do their part for the community will do so if they truly want to. Grown-ups work together on common goals, they do not act like school children,” she said.
Contacted by e-KNOW, the RDEK said in official statement it appreciates the feedback it has received from the community and is “truly sorry for any unhappiness caused by recent events. We can tell you that no one at the Fire Department is happy to see the departure of valuable members.
“We want to stress to the community that the fire department remains open and operational and that we are able to safely respond to calls. We have also arranged to staff the hall during the day Monday to Friday, and have existing mutual aid agreements with neighbouring departments should we need additional resources.
“We know there is a lot of discussion happening and want to assure the community that this decision was not made lightly.”
The RDEK pointed out that circumstances involving personnel issues are “highly delicate and confidential and as a result were not discussed during a department meeting held with members on Thursday June 14. Although we made our best effort to deliver difficult news with sensitivity, we recognize it may be difficult for people to understand when we are not able to share the full details.
“Our goal has been, and will continue to be, to support a dynamic department in Edgewater. We are very proud of the men and women in the fire department and want them to feel secure and valued. We hope that the community will join us in showing them its support. As always, we welcome new volunteers to our fire department on an ongoing basis.
“In spite of the current circumstances, we are certain that everyone wants to see our fire department continue to provide this essential service to our community,” the RDEK concluded.
Petersen said the situation will cause greater headaches in finding volunteers to staff the fire department.
“We have had issues for years with low numbers of volunteers, and we are not the only department in the province or the country that has this issue. And the way volunteers are being treated now will certainly not make it better, it will only make matters worse.
“How do you recruit new volunteers when if people don’t like them they may have to leave, regardless of how much time they have put into training or serving the community?” she asked.
“How do you trust in a new group of volunteers who are only now stepping forward because they have bullied the RDEK into firing two long term volunteers? What if they don’t like you? Will they be there to back you up at a call? How do you make decisions without hearing both sides of the story? Where is the due process? The communication?
“Where is the support for the volunteers who have proven over and over again that they are committed to helping this community, that are there when the radio goes off, that take training and work together?
“I understand that new volunteers are urgently needed to keep the department functioning and we have all actively worked at recruiting. It is a struggle we deal with every year. And I truly hope that the promised recruits not only appear but stand behind their commitment to the community. But there has to be some better way to recruit volunteers than this complete disregard for long term proven volunteers. This complete lack of respect. This complete lack of support in those you have invested time and training into over years and years,” Petersen noted in her resignation letter.
“Jim Miller (RDEK Columbia Valley fire chief) has put the decision to Fire Dan and Tammy Tutte solely at your feet. He says this was not his decision; that he was told this is what he should do. And we just need to move forward. This is his responsibility, too, because he should have supported his volunteers and found some way to bring these groups together to work on a solution to the problem instead of caving in to talk from what are no more than a bunch of bullies.”
Petersen, a firefighter, first responder and first responder instructor, said she fears the fire department could close as a result of the rift.
“If this poor decision does in fact fail than you are all responsible for the closure of the Edgewater Fire Department. As it is, I am not the only one unable to continue serving on the department. I know of three others who are not returning because of the way two of our team were so casually dismissed.
“So by trying to increase the number of volunteers by removing two, you have lost an additional four. And others have yet to decide if they are able to continue. This not a decision we are encouraging as each person needs to decide what is best for themselves.
“This is a huge loss to the fire department and to the community. And I am sure that there are many, many more residents that will be concerned that this has been allowed to happen than those that instigated it,” she said adding, “Volunteerism has died a little more in Edgewater. I know of many potential volunteers for the community rink project that did not volunteer because of all that drama.”
– Ian Cobb/e-KNOW