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COMMENT: Rebuttal to letter to the editor

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
October 9th, 2013

I’ve been doing this a fairly long time, and I’ve read lots of writing that has made me angry over the years, but few pieces have infuriated me to the same degree as a letter to the editor published in the Castlegar News last week.

I believe when you put writing out into the public domain, be it as a trained journalist or as a private citizen, you have a responsibility to get your facts right and be honest about your position, and I believe this letter intentfully obfuscates both. In my opinion, the author(s) target a beloved public servant and local volunteer only to serve what I think is their true hidden agenda, which I believe is to take a sideways swing at the city’s current administration – an approach I think is both cowardly and dishonest.

But I’m getting ahead of myself … let’s start with the factual errors.

The author(s), while decrying the city’s creation of a new deputy fire chief position, says, “I suppose because the other two vehicles are pushing the $100,000 figure, the new guy will have to have one as well.”

That’s a blatant falsehood. The command vehicle fire chief Gerry Rempel drives is a 2003 model that cost $32,000 and the one deputy fire chief Duane Monsen drives is a 2007 that cost roughly $40,000 including the lighting package, sirens and radios.

“Interior Health has failed miserably to provide improved ambulance service …” Well, I should think so, given it’s not their mandate, but rather that of the B.C. Ambulance Service (BCAS). I agree that BCAS is dropping the ball – but let’s at least be accurate about whose fault that is when tossing around blame, shall we?

The letter goes on to say, “The city should look to hire a full-time airport manager, rather than the fire chief who has limited experience in this field.”

Poor punctuation aside, I think the authors should define “limited experience”, given that Rempel has been involved with the airport in one capacity or another for more than three decades (since 1981), even serving as the airport fire chief. More to the point, if they take issue with Rempel’s job performance, either as fire chief or as airport manager, they should lay out specific examples with solid evidence, rather than publicly offering vague slurs and insinuations of incompetence. The latter is, to my way of thinking, just plain sleazy.

“There’s no need for the chief and his deputy to race down the street with the first responder unit following with a full contingent of very capable volunteer firefighters.”

Well, actually there is – the city has a deal with the province whereby, in exchange for first responder duties being carried out by our fire department, all of our firefighters get trained for free, saving Castlegar taxpayers countless thousands of dollars in training costs.

I totally understood what people were supposed to assume based on the comment, “What are the salaries for those involved?”, so in the interests of honesty, let’s spell it out: The City of Castlegar has 33 volunteer firefighters and two (soon to be three) paid ones. We pay a total of $560,000 per year for our fire department – compare that to cities with unionized crews, where the budgets are in the millions of dollars with far less service (for example, the City of Nelson spends roughly $1.6 million on their fire department, which boasts 10 career firefighters and a fire chief).

My point being, we’d be getting a bargain at twice the price, and the reason for that is Rempel’s and Monsen’s diligent efforts to recruit, train and maintain a strong contingent of dedicated and loyal volunteers to serve our city in its darkest hours, and anyone who says otherwise is, in my opinion, either a stone-cold liar or completely ignorant of what seem to me to be fairly obvious facts.

Don’t get me wrong – Rempel’s not above reproach – he puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us, and makes mistakes, and as a public servant, he should be open to scrutiny.

But if you’re going to attack him, do it based on his record, with supporting facts and details, not some underhanded, ambiguous critiques to which he can’t really respond.

I’ll remind the authors that Rempel not only serves Castlegar as a public servant, but also volunteers for Rotary, as a cadet commanding officer, as an Aboriginal elder, and formerly as a St John Ambulance Brigade Superintendent. Attacking him is kind of like attacking Santa Claus … oh, wait, no, it IS attacking Santa, because guess who dons the big red suit every year, for free, for the majority of community events where said service is required?

So I’ll wrap my comments up the same way the author(s) of the letter did – with a couple of suggestions:

1. Get your facts straight – gross errors merely serve to underline, for people in the know, the wisdom of utterly disregarding your counsel.

2. If you want to serve your community, perhaps demoralizing one of its most active volunteers and public servants is a bad call, and detrimental to said community. You’d better serve Castlegar by stepping away from the microphone.

3. If you loathe the current city administration, that’s fine – but in future, were I you, I would limit your attacks to mayor and council.

Gerry Rempel is way, way out of your league.

Categories: GeneralOp/EdPolitics

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