Gawd almighty.. the nerve of him, banning drunken firefighters.
N.L. mayor's fire hall booze ban met with protest
By TARA BRAUTIGAM
POINT LEAMINGTON, N.L. (CP) — A small-town spat that began when the mayor of a rural Newfoundland community barred firefighters from drinking on the job has erupted into fierce protests from locals demanding his resignation.
Nearly a year after putting an end to the decades-old practice, Mayor Robert Elliott has become persona non grata in this picturesque community of 600.
“Not even in my worst dreams could I imagine this,” he said, looking out his livingroom window onto a frozen bay that spills into the Atlantic Ocean.
“It’s been a rough two months.”
For more than 30 years, Point Leamington’s fire station doubled as a speakeasy. Volunteer firefighters routinely sold and drank beer at the fire hall until officials confiscated the booze last spring. The move came after Elliott issued several warnings about drinking on the premises.
The fire chief subsequently resigned. Then, on Dec. 28, 15 of the department’s remaining 17 members quit en masse, citing “a lack of respect” in a letter to Point Leamington’s town council.
Since then, Elliott has endured much of the community’s wrath.
“We had motorcades go through town here in protest,” Elliott said. “I’ve had them in front of my door here for over 20 minutes, the horns blowing, about a month ago. I don’t know where the townsfolk are coming from.”
In another clash, Elliott said some residents prevented him from leaving his office.
“They barricaded my truck in,” he said. “I waited and I waited and I threatened to call the RCMP. Anyway, later on that night they finally decided to let me go.”
Former fire chief Kevin Stuckless said Elliott has lost the town’s support, arguing the mayor’s stand against alcohol in the fire hall is unfair.
“Why not have it there?” Stuckless asked. “What’s wrong with it?”
Elliott has said his stance was based on cases in the past where firefighters responded to calls drunk.
But Stuckless, a volunteer on the force for 18 years, said the department always had some members at the station designated not to drink, downplaying concerns of drunken firefighters as overblown.
He believes Elliott’s position really stems from the fire department’s push for an annual honorarium. The firefighters made the demand after town council voted to give stipends of $1,000 to councillors and $2,000 to the mayor.
Last year Elliott said he would consider the honorarium, but that only infuriated the firefighters, prompting them to pull their services, Stuckless said.
New firefighters have recently been trained. Elliott has also secured a restricted liquor licence for the fire hall, allowing them to drink at the station three times a week.
“I would prefer a fire hall without alcohol in there at all,” said Elliott.
“But when you’re boxed into a corner, whether you’re gonna have a fire department or not, you try to compromise.”
Still, more than 300 people have signed a petition calling for the reinstatement of the old fire department and the scrapping of town council’s annual honorarium.
Otherwise, residents will continue their calls for town council to resign, Stuckless said.
“You can run this town without a council, but you can’t have a town without a fire department.”
Elliott is adamant he won’t reinstate the fire department, even if it means further hostilities between himself and what he called “the old boys’ club.”
“If I go down to the post office, I go into the store, I go to the church, you walk in and you see people who just signed petitions and just stopped in front of your door, blowing horns,” he said.
“We’re doing the right thing. No one can look me in the face and tell me what I’m doing is wrong.”