Early handover of fire equipment creates controversy

Mayor apologies for unceremonious transfer of county fire trucks.

The transfer of fire trucks from the Ponoka Fire Department (PFD) to Ponoka County did not go as smoothly as planned.

Officially the East District Fire Department was to take over its area Tuesday, April 26 with trucks that belonged to the county being handed over that morning.

However, that was not what happened.

Monday evening during PFD practice, East District Fire Chief Dale Morrow received a phone call to come and pick up the trucks although the expected delivery of the units was Tuesday morning and there was no notice earlier from the Ponoka Fire Department that it was being brought forward, Ponoka County CAO Charlie Cutforth said in an interview.

Things came to light Tuesday night during the public forum part of the regular meeting of the town council when Morrow’s son, Kent, asked why there was a need for the trucks to be delivered the evening prior. CAO Albert Flootman answered that it was an operational decision made by PFD Fire Chief Jamie Wilkinson.

“The fire chief made a decision to move that up,” explained Flootman.

He added that he was aware of the decision and felt satisfied that residents were not at risk overnight.

It is believed the officers with the PFD dropped off one tender (water tanker), the new rescue truck, a pumper truck and a brush fire unit leaving the last tender in the town fire hall. The county picked that tender up the next morning.

Coun. Teri Underhill asked for clarification if equipment on the trucks was transferred as well. Flootman said he had met with Cutforth Tuesday morning about certain tools removed from the trucks. He said there was some grey area when former interim CAO Doug Wright and Cutforth discussed the payment for vehicles in January.

“There was considerable discussion over those tools,” said Flootman.

In the interview, Cutforth said he did not realize some of the equipment, in one case newer hoses switched out with older ones, would not go with the trucks. “Arguably it could be said it’s not ours to expect.”

Part of the issue appears to be over equipment purchased by the Ponoka Fire Brigade Society, a fundraising group for the PFD that helped raise money through donations. Cutforth said the decision was somewhat alarming but added that the east district department is up and running and has the necessary equipment to do the job.

In reponse to a request to speak with Wilkinson on the operational decision that resulted with the early delivery of the equipment, the town referred Ponoka News to a letter from Mayor Rick Bonnett. In the letter, Bonnett apologizes to county staff and residents for the unceremonious transfer. “It was a wrong and misguided decision, and for that I am sincerely sorry,” he stressed.

He takes full responsibility for what occurred but the decision was made because there were firefighters training that night who could drive over the trucks. Bonnett put members to a high standard of conduct in the letter as the the town and county have just signed a mutual aid agreement.

“Accountability and conformity with the spirit of this mutual aid agreement by our members is a basic expectation, so that the citizens of both the town and county will be properly served,” stated Bonnett.

“We must do better for our citizens and we will do better. All staff and members of our Fire Department will strive to perform at their best,” he concluded.

That Wednesday Flootman returned two truck owner manuals and some minor tools to the county department.