The City of Dryden, their volunteer firefighters and city residents are at an impasse, with little direction into what comes next.

Dryden City Councillors held a council meeting to discuss the current state of the city’s fire coverage. The council chambers were overflowing with residents as they came in droves to find out what’s next in the dispute between the Dryden Firefighters Association and the city.

Darren Trist represented the DFFA, and began his delegation with an apology regarding his remarks toward councillor John Carlucci and councillor Martin MacKinnon. On March 12, Trist said that the two councillors were “spineless”. Trist then provided a timeline of events, from the viewpoint of the DFFA.

On November 13, councillor MacKinnon brought up the subject of the fire hall in open council. On November 20, the City of Dryden passed their Municipal Alcohol Policy – which states that no alcohol can be present in city-owned facilities. On January 12, the DFFA made a delegation to council regarding the use of a “beer fridge” in the Club Association room, and that they hoped that it could stay. The DFFA says that councillors agreed to negotiate with the DFFA.

On February 1, Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Dryden, Ernie Remillard – who was absent at the council meeting – sent a letter which stated that all alcohol must be removed by February 8. The DFFA say that they had not yet heard back from council regarding the issue. On February 7, the DFFA responded to Remillard and council, saying that they were negotiating with councillors and that the policy would not apply until negotiations were complete.

On February 9, the DFFA says that Remillard sent a second letter, with a deadline to remove all alcohol by February 10. Reportedly, other city-owned facilities had until February 22. On February 10, Remillard, Dryden Fire Chief Ryan Murrell and four DPS officers came to the fire hall to inspect the Club Association Room, and that it was found to be in full compliance with the new policy. During the inspection, three firefighters were terminated over a “verbal dispute in a non-workplace, while off duty.”

On February 11, the DFFA sent a letter to councillors stating that if the firefighters were not re-instated, there would be a suspension of service. On February 22, the DFFA withdrew their services. On February 27, councillors met with the DFFA and agreed to reinstate the three firefighters. On February 28, the DFFA says that councillors changed the terms of agreement that were agreed upon. On March 2, the DFFA says that councillors changed the terms of agreement a second time, and the DFFA sent a letter to council to ask for new meetings between the two parties.

On March 6, Remillard sent a third letter which was an “intent to return to work” form, saying that firefighters would be terminated if they refused to return to work. Only three firefighters out of 36 signed the form. On March 8, the DFFA says that they were set to meet with councillors, but none of them showed. On March 9, the DFFA asked for additional meetings with councillors.

On March 12, the city held a Committee of the Whole meeting where councillor Mary Trist put forward a motion to discuss having a Town Hall meeting to resolve the issue at the next council meeting, which was passed by councillors. Councillor Roger Valley proposed leasing the Club Association Room to the DFFA. The motion was not voted on.

Darren Trist then stressed that he was concerned with the state of the city’s fire coverage, even though the city negotiated Mutual Aid agreements with Oxdrift, Wabigoon and Machin firefighters. He says that an emergency call may see as little as three to four firefighters on scene, and that due to the travel distance between communities, firefighters may take between 30 to 60 minutes to arrive. Trist also added that firefighters from other communities are in a tough spot, as they also have to make sure that their own community is covered in case of an emergency.

While the City of Dryden did hire four professional firefighters on a contract basis, Trist says that the firefighters are young and inexperienced. He says that none of them can operate the city’s ladder truck, and have little industrial fire experience – such as Domtar mill. Trist added that they also have little hazmat suit experience and little auto-excavation experience. Trist says that Dryden and the communities that surround it are at risk. Dryden councillors say that they believe the city has maintained normal fire coverage.

Trist also shared his concerns regarding the cost of the four new firefighters. He says that the city’s option is to either work things out with the DFFA, or contract out an entire department of professional firefighters. The four who were hired on a contract basis are currently being housed and fed by the city. Trist adds that a professional firefighter’s salary can range between $65,000 and $96,000. There are currently plans to recruit another three professional firefighters on a contract basis as well.

Trist says that he and the DFFA have the support of volunteer firefighters from across the province, as many have reached out so far. Trist ended his delegation saying that himself and the DFFA are prepared to meet with councillors anywhere at any time, but made sure to note that the DFFA will not return to the “toxic” work environment they were experiencing.

“It’s such a toxic work environment right now. It’s unsafe for our workers to go back to a Fire Chief that we don’t trust, for a city council that doesn’t appear to care,” added Trist. “We’re looking for a cooling off period. Get everyone back to work and we will discuss the issues going forward. We’ve gotten slapped in the face. To ask us to forget it all, it’s not going to happen. From the moment the Fire Chief brought in city administration into the Association Room, where he found out that we were compliant with all municipal policies, it was his direction to fire three members. One had thirty years experience. Two had eighteen years experience. This can not be forgiven easily. He’s been working against us through this whole process. We don’t trust him. In our line of work, trust means a lot. The city councillors made this about alcohol to turn the public against us.”

“We have been systematically targeted. We need city administration that works with us, not against us. We need a Fire Chief that goes to war with us, not against us. Lets sit down face-to-face and come up with real solutions before a tragedy occurs, which is inevitable.”

Trist received a round of applause from the public following the delegation.

After the delegation, it was councillor’s time to speak. Councillor Roger Valley immediately asked Trist what would be the first thing that the DFFA would want changed so that they would return to work. Trist responded that the DFFA wants Fire Chief Ryan Murrell to be removed “in some capacity”, something that the firefighters have been advocating for since January 12.

Councillor Nick Beyak, who had been serving as the Deputy Mayor during the majority of the situation, had a few points he wanted to make in response to Trist’s delegation. He says that the terms of agreement changing between the DFFA and the city was a “misunderstanding”.

Many Dryden residents didn’t mince words as they let their voices be heard throughout the council meeting. One man emerged from the crowd to say that he was present at the meeting between the city and the firefighters, and the terms changing being a misunderstanding “wasn’t true.”

Mayor Wilson and council had to remind the public that the council meeting was not a space to air their concerns on a few occasions throughout the night.

Beyak continued, adding that the intent to return to work form was a way for council to “see who we can count on.” He says that it is time to resolve the situation, but firefighters withdrawing their services on three separate occasions was a major issue. Beyak added that “there’s not much left to talk about.”

“I think it’s clear that council’s direction is that we need to move on,” said Beyak. “The firefighters withdrew their services three times. They’ve made their decision pretty clear. We, as representatives of the City of Dryden, it’s our job to ensure fire protection for the city, and that’s what we’re going to do. I certainly want to thank the Hall #2 firefighters, they’ve been amazing, the contract firefighters, and some of the firefighters in Hall #1 as well who have agreed to stick around and do their job. We do need a long-term solution, there’s no doubt about that, and that’s what we’re going to work on.”

Councillor Carlucci agreed with Beyak, comparing the DFFA to “bullies”, adding that they are “holding the city hostage.”

Councillor Valley took issue with Beyak’s statement. “This is our home. We have to do something. We don’t know the cost of all of this. There’s no option for failure. We have to do something,” after which, Valley received a round of applause from the public in attendance.

Valley added that the public wants to speak and that councillors should give them the proper opportunity to. Valley and Councillor Mary Trist then re-proposed the idea of hosting a Town Hall meeting for the public to air their concerns and voice their opinions.

“Our community is divided and struggling,” said councillor Trist. “It’s not fair to citizens. We cannot continue like this. We all have to live here together. We can’t hide from this.”

Ultimately, the motion to hold a Town Hall meeting was shot down 4 – 2. Councillors Valley and Trist were in favour of the meeting. Mayor Greg Wilson and councillors Beyak, MacKinnon and Carlucci voted against the meeting.

Valley said that he was “shocked” about the motion being shot down. He then received a second round of applause from the public, who were upset about the lack of a Town Hall meeting.

“Dryden is not functioning properly. This has gone way past alcohol. This is about respect. If we’re not listening to the public, what are we doing in these chairs?” Afterwards, Valley received a third round of applause.

“I am frustrated,” added councillor Trist. “We all live here. We have to come to a resolution. I’d say that it was disappointing. I always think that it’s disappointing to vote to not listen to the people. I’m concerned that we’re in the same position now, that we we’re when we entered the room. Where it goes from here? I’m honestly not sure. I’m hoping there’s a plan. We need to definitely acknowledge the communities that have offered their services. I see that as short-term, and not a long-term solution. We need to get to a point where we can have a long-term solution.”

“A Town Hall meeting would be nice so that city councillors can be reminded who employs them,” said Darren Trist. “Councillors are supposed to be conduits of the public. I don’t believe that they are acting in that way. I believe the public is scared into what will happen next. We’re just asking for a conversation. We’re not going to just go back to a person in command that we don’t trust, for a city that doesn’t care. I find city council’s actions today very disappointing to say the least. I think that the people of Dryden should hold them accountable.”

Mayor Wilson then took to the proverbial podium, saying that mistakes have been made on both sides. He says that councillors had met with a lawyer regarding leasing out the Club Association Room, but it was ill-advised due to liability in regards to the alcohol policy.

He added that councillors will continue to welcome feedback, but that he did not support the Town Hall meeting or bringing in a third-party mediator to the situation. Wilson says that residents who want their voices heard are free to make delegations to council.

Councillors then held a closed meeting following the council meeting.

For more information:
‘It’s very tough’, Dryden firefighters