An investigation has been ordered over the recent controversial transfer of fire equipment from the Town of Ponoka to Ponoka County.
Town council requested the investigation over the transfer that occurred a day early on Monday, April 25. The transfer was set for April 26.
The request came after a heated discussion with town councillors Tuesday, May 10 during its regular meeting after several councillors challenged Mayor Rick Bonnett on his letter of apology to county residents published in Ponoka News.
Coun. Marc Yaworski was clear in his intent: why did the mayor send out the letter without letting the rest of the council know?
Bonnett replied that he wanted to notify the community and dispel concerns that residents were not safe in the community that night. The early transfer of equipment was conducted without the knowledge of Ponoka County’s fire services dispatch centre.
“Their dispatch did not know. The county department did not know,” stated Bonnett.
Coun. Loanna Gulka was equally upset with the mayor. She asked why he did not reply to her emails but Bonnett suggested there are other ways to reach him. “You do know my phone number … You can make a call to me at any time.”
Yaworski suggested the letter may have been unnecessary. He asked if anyone was indeed at risk that evening. Coun. Tim Falkiner said council was told at its April 26 meeting that residents were safe.
“To me, you were just throwing more gasoline on the fire,” suggested Falkiner.
Gulka took further issue with the apology letter. “The perception is that the mayor is speaking for council.”
She suggests the mayor should speak with council first so that it reflects all of the councillors’ thoughts. However, Bonnett said in the letter he takes full responsibility for the transfer and that the rest of council was left out of the equation.
“At the end of the day, if something would’ve happened it would’ve been my head on the line,” stated Bonnett.
Questions of safety
One question Coun. Sandra Lyon had for Bonnett was over conflicting statements. She said his letter states that residents were safe but during the meeting he said they weren’t.
It appears a recent fire in Morningside in Ponoka County changed his mind. Bonnett said a grass fire occurred near his friend’s home on the evening of May 7 that put his workshop at risk.
The county fire department used both tenders to put out the fire but when the Ponoka Fire Department made the transfer on April 25, they dropped off one tender and held onto the other one that Monday night.
“After seeing Saturday night at my friend’s place, they would not have saved his shop,” stated Bonnett.
Who owns what
One concern raised by Ponoka County after the transfer was that when the trucks were dropped off, most of the equipment was stripped out of them, which created a need to purchase more before being able to operate sufficiently.
Yaworski said he had met with members of the Ponoka Fire Department and thet Ponoka Fire Brigade Society, a fundraising group within the department.
“They don’t feel they have to give the stuff back,” said Yaworski.
It appears there was no discussion between the town and county over the equipment in the trucks and no discussion between the departments over the issue.
“What we didn’t get was the facts. What we still don’t have is the facts,” said Coun. Carla Prediger.
Lyon agreed saying that without any concrete information about the transfer, it is difficult to make an educated decision on the matter.
She added that communication has been so inadequate that, as she understood, in speaking on the budget regarding the equipment and tools on the trucks, that Ponoka County had indeed paid for the trucks and tools included. The problem she sees was that the Ponoka Fire Department wasn’t notified.
Prediger made the motion to direct administration to fully investigate the transfer of trucks and equipment, which was approved.
Resident supports Mayor’s letter
During the public forum of the meeting two residents spoke on the transfer and on the mayor’s letter.
Linda Bergman praised Bonnett for the apology letter. “I thank you for stepping up to the plate and offer that up to the public.”
Jim Hamilton also spoke on the equipment, taking issue with how it was withheld from the county fire department. He said he had donated over $20,000 of profits from Hamilton’s IGA to the fire brigade society, the money which came from residents in the town and the county. He added that he had firefighters, some of who are now with the county fire department and some who are on the town department, requesting donations to the society.
“The intent of these donations was to equip the fire trucks. And to have the equipment removed after I gave the donation, I am very upset about,” said Hamilton.