WEST HANTS, N.S. – Some local firefighters are scratching their heads after West Hants council vetoed the idea of creating a special 15-year service medal to honour its volunteer firefighters.
Paul Maynard, the deputy fire chief with the Hantsport Fire Department, is currently in his 29th year of volunteer service. He said the decision was unfortunate for the men and women who give their time freely to protect the area.
“We were disappointed by council's decision to turn down the motion to recognize our volunteer firefighters for 15 and 30 years of long service with an award that is appropriate for the fire service,” said Maynard in a phone interview.
While firefighters don't seek out pats on the back, Maynard said being recognized on occasion can really help with recruitment and retention efforts.
“It's a stretch these days for busy people to commit even 10 years to a volunteer organization let alone 15 or 30,” said Maynard.
“A little bit of recognition goes a long ways. I know our volunteers appreciate it for the amount of time they put into the fire service. It's basically 24/7.”
Social media lit up with comments in the days following West Hants' March 27 committee of the whole meeting, with people from Hants County, the Valley and beyond being critical of council's decision.
Coun. Jennifer Daniels initially pitched the idea of how council could recognize more firefighting contributions during the meeting. The current policy allows council to provide certificates of recognition starting at 20 years of service. She asked council to change the policy to recognize firefighters who reached 15 years of service with a special municipal award. She also suggested partnering with the Canadian Volunteer Fire Service Association when they provide 30-year medals. Doing so would see the municipal crest inscribed on the back of the award.
“We recognize them with a certificate. But, federally, nationally and provincially, firefighters have the ability to be recognized for their service through medals that they wear on their jackets,” she said at the meeting.
“A lot of municipalities have been moving forward to recognize their volunteers for 15 years and we don't. I feel these members, these volunteers, are more deserving of something significant, (more) than just a certificate and a thank you,” Daniels continued.
The councillor proposed West Hants create its own ribbon bar to be presented for 15 years of service.
That proposal didn't go over as planned.
Only a few councillors asked questions before the vote. Coun. Kathy Monroe wanted to know if it was West Hants' role to provide the firefighters with medals.
“We don't give them anything municipally, correct? Is that our place or the fire department's place to do this?”
She also indicated she would like to see a list of all firefighters and the years of service they have provided.
Coun. Debbie Francis asked if they could hold off on making any changes. She suggested they could discuss the idea with the area's fire chiefs as the municipality is currently working through creating a fire service policy.
Coun. Tanya Leopold wanted to know if the award would be for all firefighters, to which Daniels said it would be.
There was little support for Daniels' motion to have the CAO amend its policy to allow volunteer firefighters with 15 years of service to be recognized. Once that failed, Daniels didn't bring forward the motion to honour 30-year veteran firefighters by partnering with the CVFSA.
Social media reaction
Daniels took to the Facebook page that she uses to keep residents informed of council business. While she doesn't often speak out against council decisions, this one upset her.
“Well, normally I don’t vent using social media, and support decisions whether I agree with them or not, however I feel tonight we hit an all time low,” she wrote.
“After proposing the municipality recognize our firefighters with (a) 15 year service bar as well as the #CVFSA 30 (year) medal, it was rejected by my peers with little to no reasoning. This was a simple gesture recognizing the volunteer service, a service that many of us have no idea what is sacrificed to provide protecting our communities. A simple gesture given on behalf of our communities. I can honestly say, and this is my opinion only, (this is) the most embarrassed I’ve been (during) the six years serving on council.”
Her post was shared more than 50 times and had nearly 50 comments as of April 2. Most comments agreed with her stance, many focused on how volunteer firefighters are celebrated in other areas of the province.
Warden Abraham Zebian also weighed in on Daniels' comment, saying the social media post was “very misinforming.”
He noted the Municipality of West Hants currently recognizes all of its volunteer emergency service providers for 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, and 60 years of service but they weren't prepared to add 15 years without having more information.
“Council felt the report presented to it was incomplete and lacked the information needed to pass the motion. The next step will be to make a motion at the next council meeting requesting staff do a proper report to make the addition of a recognition of 15 years service as well,” he wrote, attaching council's policy on recognizing volunteers.
“I trust this corrects the misinformation presented on this social media platform.”
During the March 27 meeting, a motion to revisit the 15-year award proposal or to have the CAO prepare a formal report on the subject was not presented . The next council meeting is April 10, at which time the subject may be raised again.
Maynard, who also weighed in on Daniels' social media post, thanked her for her efforts.
“You are the one councillor who takes the time to follow-up with us after a significant motor vehicle collision or fatality fire. I know our members appreciate it,” he wrote on Facebook.
“Although we shouldn't be surprised, we were all a bit shocked when we learned your motion was defeated tonight. It would have aligned us well with what is being done in Kings and East Hants. Both those councils have embraced the awards at 15 and 30 years and have been very well received by firefighters. The Town of Windsor also recognizes 16 years service,” he continued.
The Town of Windsor and the Windsor Fire Department teamed up in 2014 to create the 16-year medals. Read about their first presentation here.
As the Hantsport Fire Department covers several areas in Kings County, like Hants Border, Lockhartville, Bishopville and towards Avonport, the West Hants firefighters receive recognition for their efforts by the neighbouring municipal unit.
“Fortunately for us in Hantsport, our Kings County councillors have allowed our members to be part of their recognition efforts and for that we are grateful. Thank you again and I guess the members in Hantsport will proudly wear their recognition awards from Kings County council,” he wrote.
Maynard had worked alongside West Hants' former CAO Cathie Osborne to try to develop a similar award recognition but it didn't materialize. Maynard said Daniels picked up the project.
“From our perspective, I know council has to make tough decisions at times and there's always monetary costs around things and money doesn't come easy,” Maynard said in an interview.
“Based on some of the discussions I'm seeing in the realm of social media today, I think they're going to work towards some form of recognition and that's really all we can hope for. We would certainly be willing to work with them and try to get back on track.”