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Report: Town of Ponoka owes county $38,000

This photo shows an empty Engine 2 rescue vehicle after the PFD dropped off vehicles to the Ponoka County East District Fire Department a day early with minimal equipment.   - Photo from the Town of Ponoka fire investigation report
This photo shows an empty Engine 2 rescue vehicle after the PFD dropped off vehicles to the Ponoka County East District Fire Department a day early with minimal equipment.
— image credit: Photo from the Town of Ponoka fire investigation report

When the Ponoka Fire Department (PFD) dropped off emergency vehicles to the Ponoka County East District Fire Hall last April they were stripped of much of the necessary equipment needed to perform operations.

This information was imparted to All Fire Investigations in October after town council commissioned an investigation into the unceremonious transfer of equipment.

All Fire recommended the town pay back the county $38,000 for the equipment, however, Ponoka County has since purchased new equipment valued at approximately $75,000. The county has indicated its intention to seek the full amount for the new equipment.

The reason the equipment was removed from the trucks appears to be over the Fire Brigade Society’s (FBS) claim that it had raised the funds and purchased the equipment, therefore it belonged to the society.

All Fire offers that Chief Wilkinson’s decision to have the emergency vehicles transferred April 25, one day earlier than scheduled, was either planned in advance or done on impulse. However, the report states: “Given manpower and planning required, it is my opinion that this had been a planned event, with some input and participation of Brigade Society leadership.”

The FBS is a fundraising arm of the PFD and it appears there were concerns from the society’s officers about who owned the equipment.

Wilkinson informed All Fire that the reason for the date change was, “to spare his personnel the embarrassment of a County media event on the 26th, or any possible physical confrontations.”

However, All Fire makes the opinion that the early transfer occurred to ensure, “…that Brigade Society donations, and newer, better hose and appurtances (sic) were kept for the sole use of Ponoka Fire Department.”

All Fire states that Deputy Chief Kelsey Hycha (Brigade president), Assistant Chief Rob Fearon (vice-president) and Lieut. Sheldon Johnson (treasurer) were adamant that equipment bought by the society belonged to the society.

Fearon stated in the interview portion of the report that he and Hycha sought legal advice not long before the transfer of equipment on whether the Brigade owned the equipment.

All Fire asked if that opinion was in writing, which Fearon said he did not have but later delivered. Fearon presented a letter from Richard Gregory of SIRRS LLP. The brief letter confirms that he provided Hycha and Fearon with a legal opinion in relation to the tools and equipment for the fire trucks.

The letter does not elaborate on what that legal opinion was.

No cases claiming ownership

All Fire could not find any case in emergency service societies where there was an attempt to reclaim goods after they were donated.

“The ‘norm’ for equipment/ cash or other donations to emergency services is that the donations of goods or monies become the property of the emergency service,” states the report.

All Fire states that investigations showed that, “…a disturbing picture of the culture and leadership within the PFD began to take shape.”

In its executive summary to the town, All Fire was asked for recommendations to addressing the issues but leaves the disciplinary action to the town.

“I am of the view that long serving members of the Fire Brigade Society have exercised undue influence over the operations of the PFD, including the circumvention of established chain of command.”

In a press release the town stated a desire to be open and transparent. “As such, town administration has decided to proactively release this report publicly with some of the information redacted based on the recommendations of a thorough legal review of the document,” said CAO Albert Flootman in the release.

 

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