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Deputy Fire Chief in Manitouwadge resigns over unresolved concerns

The township says there's adequate emergency response coverage, despite 'misinformation'.
Manitouwadge Town Hall

MANITOUWADGE, Ont. — The former deputy fire chief in Manitouwadge, Denis Narbonne, says the community's firefighters are in a "grave situation."

The township's administration, however, is concerned about what it describes as misinformation that's being shared in the community.

Narbonne made the comment in a social media post as he announced his resignation from the department effective Dec. 17, 2021.

"I have been a member of the department for over 28 years and did not leave on good terms," Narbonne said.

Last month, he participated in a short-lived mass leave of absence by volunteer firefighters, citing concerns with staffing and with communications.

They returned to duty after a couple of days, when township officials agreed to meet to discuss their concerns.

Last week, Manitouwadge announced it had hired a new fire chief from South Algonquin Township.

In an interview Monday, however, Narbonne said "Nothing's been corrected since day one," and that there is "zero" communications with the township.

"I couldn't keep up with my responsibilities, not having any communication with senior management" about operational issues, he said.

Narbonne declined to discuss the specifics of the concerns he and other firefighters have had, saying "I'm not there anymore."

But he alleged that six of the 20 members of the volunteer service have now either resigned or been dismissed.

The fire service has been under the supervision of Marathon Fire Chief Earl Grigg since the previous chief's recent retirement.

"Our leave of absence was never about past chiefs or the hiring of the new chief...It was entirely about lack of regards for safety of firefighters/residents, respect of firefighters and communications between senior officers and senior township management," Narbonne said in a Facebook post announcing his resignation.

He said his decision to leave was not taken lightly, but added "If this is how you treat volunteers, you will end up with no one left to protect the community."

There is adequate coverage for emergencies, township says

Manitouwadge Chief Administrative Officer Florence MacLean said in an interview that only Narbonne's resignation has been received to date.

She said the township is aware of residents' concerns, but hopes that over the Christmas holidays "things settle down in terms of Facebook posts and misinformation that's being shared in the community." 

In a news release Friday, Grigg said the township wanted to ensure the public "there is adequate response coverage in the event of an emergency. Additionally, the township continues to utilize mutual aid response coverage with the Town of Marathon."

According to the town's statement, the two-day leave of absence the firefighters took last month has resulted in a pending review of the fire service by the Office of the Fire Marshall.

OFM officials will be in Manitouwadge in February to interview municipal staff and members of the fire service.

The township promised that a detailed report will be made public once the review is completed.

In the meantime, MacLean said, the township will keep the new incoming fire chief apprised of the situation.

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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