GRAVENHURST - Several people involved with Gravenhurst Fire Department operations have come forth to the Gravenhurst Banner, upset over how 40-year veteran and longtime chief Lorne McNeice’s retirement was handled.
After 40 years with the Gravenhurst Fire Department, Lorne McNeice has decided to retire.
They also say the repercussions could be a loss of personnel at the department.
Meanwhile, Deputy Mayor Jeff Watson, who chaired an announcement meeting in mid-October, says some of the questions by the personnel are understandable, but time constraints and other duties prevented the town from establishing the hiring panel it would have preferred.
Out of concern for their individual livelihoods and their various positions in and around the department, all those that approached this newspaper requested anonymity, but felt strongly their opinions and views on the situation needed to be brought to public light.
It was explained by the small group that during the evening hours of Wednesday, Oct. 10, firefighters and staff with the department were called to a meeting with three members of council and the town human resources manager. At that meeting, they said, the announcement was made that McNeice was retiring as of Oct. 14 and the new full-time chief would take over the following day.
“All we had heard was rumours (that the chief would retire); there was no formal communication between council and the department which we think is wholly inappropriate,” another said. “The man served 40 years of his life for the community and deserves more.”
“The way it was approached was terrible,” a third said. “Whether you like him or not, he served this town honourably for 40 years. He was so well respected and respect is earned, especially in the fire service.”
Deputy Mayor Watson said he understood some of the frustration from people around the department, having worked with it himself and under McNeice for about eight years in the past.
“There were no hidden agendas, no secrets,” Watson said, pointing out it should have been known by the department the chief would be moving on once the request for applications went out earlier this summer. “They all knew; for anyone to say they didn’t know this was coming is not true.”
“Lorne’s (retirement) announcement wasn’t our call; he chose not to do it beforehand,” he added. “He wanted it all to be low key, but I can understand their sense of loyalty to the chief (McNeice).”
Watson said there was frequent communication between the hiring panel and the CAO’s office, and that McNeice asked that no formal announcement be made until the new chief had been hired. Those concerned with the process also questioned why the panel did not include other Muskoka area fire chiefs. For example, they said when Bracebridge chief Murray Medley was hired to his post some years ago, McNeice sat on that panel.
“Fire chiefs, fire personnel know what questions to ask, they know what it takes to run a volunteer fire department and by having only council on the panel, does the community know council made the right choice?” another added. “It leaves a sour taste in my mouth how it was handled. Don’t get me wrong, change is good and I’m hoping the new chief (Larry Brassard) will work out great, we’re just not happy with how it happened.”
“It was a lot of disrespect to Lorne,” the person added. “There were a lot of people that left that night wondering if they will continue with fire services in Gravenhurst.”
In relation to the absence of the chief on the hiring panel, Watson said, “It’s a legitimate question and I understand why they’d ask.”
“Chief McNeice was asked to participate; he did have the opportunity,” Watson said, adding on the two days when interviews were being conducted by the panel, the former chief was in training through the local fire college where he still works and was unavailable. “Everything was above board, but this was a process we had to move along.”
“I understand there may be some questions about communication and how rumours start, but Lorne wanted to keep it low key,” Watson added.
McNeice could not be reached for comment.