REPORT: Town owes county $38,000 in botched equipment transfer.

Town of Ponoka releases report on the transfer of fire equipment recommending money owed.

After weeks of legal review the Town of Ponoka has released the report on the botched transfer of fire equipment to Ponoka County.

A press release from the town and executive summary from All Fire Investigations, the company hired to review the events of the transfer, was made available on the town website Feb. 8 with the release stating administration is committed to being 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.

County unaware of the PFD plans

All Fire’s summary points out that Ponoka County had no knowledge of the transfer, which happened one day early, and that a minimum of firefighting and rescue equipment was provided in the vehicles.

Recommendations in the summary offer that the town should reimburse Ponoka County $38,000 for equipment that was removed prior to the transfer. Among the issues highlighted was a claim by the Ponoka Fire Brigade Society, a fundraising group for the PFD, that the equipment donated to the department prior to the transfer belonged to the society.

“Fire department officers, at least three of who were also society officers, and with the acquiescence of the Town of Ponoka Fire Chief, removed all said equipment from the vehicles that were to be transferred to the county fire department,” explains the summary.

Some rescue tools were held back but the Fire Chief ordered them returned to a rescue truck. After extensive research, All Fire makes the conclusion that donations should be considered assets rather than attempting to have them reclaimed.

“Extensive research revealed no known case in North America whereby a donour or donours, be it an individual or society, etc., had donated equipment or monies to an emergency service and later attempted or succeeded in re-claiming ownership and/or control of any donation(s),” says the report.

Report finds issues within town fire department

Among recommendations requested to address further issues, All Fire’s report states investigations found serious issues within the PFD citing issues with integrity, internal PFD culture and internal communications and structure.

“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.”

The recommendation is to leave the consequences and remedies to be dealt with internally and confidentially. Since the town received the report, it is believed one senior ranked volunteer member was removed of duty.

All Fire concludes with this statement: “Fire departments have visible signs of rank, but the firefighters filling those ranks must demonstrate excellent leadership qualities, nurture respect, and practice teamwork within their own organization as well as outside the organization.”

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The report and what’s next

For the town’s part there is one caveat to the release of the redacted report; the public can request to view the document at Town Hall.

Flootman adds in the press release that the town, “carefully considered our obligations to the community and to the individuals named in the report, and concluded that it was important to release the report publicly to ensure transparency in this matter.”

When asked for comment, Ponoka County CAO Charlie Cutforth was not surprised by the report. “We’re disappointed it’s taken this turn in the first place,” said Cutforth.

He and Flootman will be working together to come up with a solution on the recommended repayment although for the county, Cutforth said they had to buy $75,000 worth of equipment to make the trucks operationally ready.

Since the report was received some weeks ago the town did apologize to the county for the actions of individuals within the PFD.

The town provided Ponoka News with a hard copy of the redacted results with the blacked out portions stating FOIP section 17(1) as the reason behind the removal. A full report of the document will be published in the Feb. 15 edition of Ponoka News.