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Rankin fire chief faces uncertain times

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services

Rankin Inlet (May 08/06) - Rankin Inlet is facing the heat as it faces the possibility of losing its full-time fire chief.

The stunning announcement came during a regular meeting of hamlet council this past week.

Mayor Lorne Kusugak said last week during a regular hamlet meeting that without funding help from the territorial government, the hamlet won't be able to keep fire chief Rick Penner on the job.

Kusugak said it would be a dark day, not only for the hamlet, but the entire region and territory, if the chief's position is slashed.

"You look at the professionalism our volunteers have now when responding to emergency calls and it's quite impressive," said Kusugak.

"That's not to say they couldn't do their jobs before Mr. Penner arrived, but they've certainly become better trained during his time here."

The hamlet is asking the government to pay $50,000 towards Penner's salary.

Councillors discussed a number of scenarios during the meeting, including making the chief's position part-time.

Kusugak said $50,000 is a small price to pay for what the position delivers.

"Look at the training that has been held for volunteer firefighters in our community, both from across Kivalliq and other communities in Nunavut, during the past few years.

"We will not see that level of commitment without a full-time fire chief."

Although Penner is on salary with the hamlet, he's never had a signed contract.

Penner, who's been on the job for three year, said he's been down this road with council before and the lack of job security has him uneasy.

He said some of the reluctance of council members to maintain his salary may come from past confrontations.

"I've been at odds with the hamlet's former regime, especially the former SAO, but I'd like to think I have a working relationship with him now," said Penner.

"I don't have to be friends with anybody. My position is such that it almost prevents that.

"I would hope council feels it is getting its money worth by maintaining my position."

Community and Government Services Deputy Minister Tom Rich said the hamlet has been informed numerous times during the past year that there's no specific funding for a fire chief's position in any community.

He said the government provides annual block funding that communities can use for staff if they see fit.

"We did provide one-time funding about two years ago because of the training being conducted in Rankin," said Rich.

"But there's no annual funding source for staff, and we've made that perfectly clear to every community.

"We want to see strong fire departments in every community, but staffing remains a hamlet responsibility."