The Absence of Reason

Chief Fire Officer Leslie Fontenelle breaks his silence on the current Fire Service protest action

Fire chief Leslie Fontenelle has his say on impasse.

Fire chief Leslie Fontenelle has his say on impasse.

I am at a loss as to why I am the subject of such public bitterness and aggression.  I have been out of my office for the last three weeks from August 25th 2014 until now; so what has caused this sudden spate of reaction?

The situation now affecting the Fire Service stems from what I see as an absence of reason or reasonableness.  Furthermore, the matters being pursued are in no way related to welfare.  No personal rights are being threatened or infringed.

Contrary to what is being aired in public media, it’s not that the government has not responded to the situation, but that it has not responded in the way the Fire Service Association thinks that it should and so The Association is using the strategy of protest – withdrawing their services to force the government to give them what they want.  This is about the sixth time they have gone on strike for the same issue – demanding that the government implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry.  But attempting to force the administration to act in a manner favourable by using aggressive means is completely contrary to the rules of natural justice.

The only recommendation not yet implemented is for the Chief Fire Officer to be placed on contract and that is what is being protested.  Are they aware that to be fair, such a condition must be applied to every succeeding Fire Chief?  A protest is usually undertaken to clamour for some public good that would benefit a vast majority of the populace.

                                                                                                             The Current Protest

Consider it in the context of this analogy:  A parent walks into a convenience shop with a toddler.  The toddler asks for a new toy and the parent says, no we don’t have money for any toys.  The toddler begins to throw a tantrum.  After several attempts to coax that child the parent resorts to a more stern composure.  The child cannot appreciate the mother’s full justification for denying its request and feels compelled to embarrass the parent into compliance.  Passersby, not knowing fully what has transpired may believe the parent is being unfair and cruel and should give the child what he or she wants instead of correcting the child.

The Association has been told time and time again that the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry are not all implementable and that the government will not take actions which are improper just because they are in the recommendations. So instead of allowing the government to be responsible for determining the outcome of the Inquiry, the Association has been stirring up its members and using protest action to, as it were, force the hand of the government to undertake an action pleasing to their agenda.

The obvious question is, how will the recommendation that the Chief be put on contract address the issues affecting the organization?  These include
•    Limitation of man power resources and adequate ranks
•    Elimination/reduction of excess working hours
•    Poor conditions at Fire Stations – improvement of station conditions
•    Lack of adequate budget allocations for maintenance of appliances and equipment
•    Lack of a proper system of promotion to reduce/remove dependence on discretion
•    Improvement in the system of relocation of officers, to ensure transparency and fairness
•    Absence of a mechanism to help personnel identify and report issues of sexual harassment without fear of persecution

These are the areas that the Inquiry failed to address or make recommendations for. One would think that these are the area, which the Association would be clamouring to have addressed.  However, for several months, they have been rehashing over and over in public media the matters presented to the Commission of Inquiry, in the hope of getting public response to the extent the government would grant them their wish in order to quiet the public.  Any right thinking person would easily see that this does not make sense.

Any succeeding Fire Chief, without these mechanisms in place will likely fail.  The Association has to help its members understand the value of their jobs.  From the way this episode has played out, it is obvious that it was never about obtaining solutions in the first place.  The government has appointed a Human Resource Officer to the department from 2011;  I am not aware that the Association has sought audience with the HR officer or brought forward any complaints to that office.

The Association has been asked to make recommendations for a promotions policy for the department along with recommendations for a relocation policy.  I am not aware that they have responded to any of these.It appears that the members of the Fire Service want to do as they please without going through any established channel or following due process.
Those who are quick to come on public media in “support of the Firemen”, is that what they wish to support?

                                                                                                                  The Locked Office

The Association was given office space at the Administrations block when the department moved into the current location on Manoel Street in 2008.  Prior to this it had no “resting place”.  The Association Chairman was written to explaining that there was need to relocate the office space the Association currently occupies, and was advised of where the office would be relocated.  He was given two months to cooperate with this request.  A senior officer was also assigned to work along with him in that regard.  He never responded to the written request although written to on three separate occasions and told the officer plainly that he was simply not going to cooperate.

Now if the request is unreasonable or wrong and you wish to have redress, could you not raise the matter with the authorities at the Ministry of Home Affairs or even to the court for that matter?  Instead he has taken to the media to arouse public emotion.  Before proceeding further with the matter, I sought advice from the ministry and also informed the chairman in writing that if he failed to comply, such action would be taken. On the day the lock was to be changed, the Association Chairman was personally informed by his Station Officer but he failed to make himself available.

The Chairman has to realize that the Chief has administrative responsibility over the Fire Service and his instructions must be complied with until a process of redress is completed.  If that kind of behaviour is not addressed, no administrator in the Fire Service will succeed.  The Association so far has failed to comply with grievance procedure and is acting in a manner contrary to good industrial relations.

                                                                                       The Association Executive non bona fide

I have heard the words being used that the Association is null and void.  These are not my words.  Those who have said so certainly do not have their facts right.  The current executive body is non bona fide because its term of office has expired.  The re-election of officers for the Association’s executive body was due to take place in May this year 2014.Candidates are selected by self-nomination and the announcement was made requesting application for positions on the executive. It took several weeks and about three circulars before the 15 names needed could be received – the executive is made up of 14 persons.Some had to be coaxed repeatedly before they agreed.

The rules require that the Chief Fire Officer preside over the proceedings of the elections. The date for the elections was broadcasted and names of candidates displayed through general circular. When it came time to count the ballots, the conditions requiring that financial statements and operating statements be made available for the information of all was not met and has still not been done.  At a subsequent meeting made for counting the ballots the Chairman and former secretary gave a commitment that the reports would be make available by a certain date following which the elections would continue.  Still they refused to produce the reports. The members were informed that as a result of the Association’s constant refusal to produce the required reports the re-election of the executive could not be completed.The existing committee is therefore non bona fide until a new executive body is elected.

I understand and appreciate the role of the Association especially at this time; however, there are rules which must be followed in conducting the affairs of such an important entity.  That is the only way things will be done in order.  Until the rules are changed, they are to be complied with.  I think every reasonable person can agree with that.

                                                                                                  Incident at Dennery Fire Station

The situation which occurred at the Dennery Fire Station in which the Station Officer there acted in an insubordinate manner to the Deputy Chief Fire Officer, causes one to wonder where the discipline in the Fire Service has gone. It is obviously in shambles despite my efforts.  When the Fire Service had an internal system of discipline, proper conduct was upheld.Members somehow have gotten the idea that because the authority of the Fire Chief has been reduced; limited to writing complaints to the Public Service Commission (which take quite some time to be processed) that they can basically be insubordinate and disrespectful to senior officers, disobey orders and absent themselves from work with impunity.

Because of these ongoing attacks on the office of the Fire Chief by the Association, the level of discipline in the department has plunged to an all time low.  Even a station officer whose responsibility it is to uphold discipline at his station feels at liberty to display disrespect to the Deputy. The department has been plagued by constant low turnout at stations during the weekends and during festivals. Personnel behave as if they have a right to call in sick regardless of how many persons are at work because they have been given this privilege of 48hrs before producing a medical certificate.Firemen get two days off after working two day shifts and two night shifts.

There is an abject lack of regard for duty in the Fire Service. Persons appearing for duty and on parade in an unkempt manner, refusing to shave and clean their shoes or just plainly absenting themselves from parades and other assigned duties without excuse. Fire officers no longer have appreciation for the seriousness of what they do and the consequences that can result if they cannot render the services.  Is that what the members of the public are standing up with them for? Matters are out of hand, that in spite of the fact that the Association’s status is in transition, someone can call the staff to a meeting at a so called natural location and they all can leave their jobs for the entire day to attend to this meeting without any authorization.  In which country is that possible?

                                                                                                                Where it All Began

Saint Lucians should not forget where this all started.  It was after fireman Felix was issued with a letter of transfer to the Gros Islet Fire Station with which he refused to comply.  He eventually did but returned to the Castries Fire Station on his own volition and refused to return.  He later submitted a lawyer’s letter stating that the department was infringing on his rights by not providing him with transportation to Gros Islet. This prompted an Investigation for which a special panel was set up comprising three Deputy Permanent Secretaries.

Much of that report was devoted to the issue of Mr Felix not getting due benefits related to his transfer.  This was not upheld.  There was also the complaint of one female officer not being promoted and another’s (her sister’s) qualifications being overstated to facilitate her. These formed the main crux of that report.

When the report was released Mr Felix, in the Capacity of Chairman of the Association, publicly stated that they had no confidence in the report because the panel did not consist of a lawyer and so they pressed for an Inquiry.  The government again acquiesces to their request.The issues have snowballed from a personal matter to creating public confusion about what is at stake.  It began with an individual challenging authority, refusing to comply with instructions and using the position of Chairman of the Association (rallying support of his colleagues) to retaliate because he refuses to be corrected.So those who are hasty to get on board and join their voices may just be facilitating a personal agenda.


The current situation supports the fact that the Association is acting on the notion that it can have its own way by continuing to arbitrarily withdraw labour and stirring up public emotion by continuously maligning the Chief Fire Officer in public media.  However, the government cannot afford to have a system where an individual or individuals can literally act on their own and hold the country to ransom by compromising government services in order to pursue their own agenda at any cost. This represents a state of gross rebellion/lawlessness – a literal absence of reason.It will take a complete revamping of the legal framework governing the department in order for this weakness in the system to be corrected.Of course, people need to stand up for their rights, but it must be determined what right is being threatened in the circumstances.

The Chairman of the Fire Service Association and his cohorts have been out of line, dealing with matters not relevant to welfare.What they are trying to influence lies squarely with Ministerial authorities, and the Public Service Commission.If these bow to pressures they are setting a very wrong precedent which will not be easily corrected.

The Fire Service celebrates its 40th anniversary on September 14th.  It is sad that we must face these unwarranted circumstances at such a time.  However, I want to use this opportunity to call upon all right thinking Saint Lucians to pray for the Fire Service so that good sense will prevail and reason will take precedence.  Pray for the many men and women who seem not to value or appreciate the important role which they play in providing safety services to our people.Encourage your family and friends to take their job more seriously and do their best to deliver the service for which they have been employed. I also want to thank the many officers and volunteers who so far have been level headed and remained on the job in order to render valuable service to our people.May the Lord God put a hand in this matter and bring it to a peaceful end.

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15 Responses to The Absence of Reason

  1. Fire Officer says:

    At our meetings I always try to put some sense in these fellers head. But no, they eh listening to me. They want to run the department like is still the 70?s and 80?s, because when they joined the department that’s how the chiefs use to behave. They want to maintain the same foolish behavior. They fail to realize is human beings they are dealing with,big men and women, not school children. Gov’t sending them on human resource management courses and supervisory skills courses but they coming back more daff than ever. I knew this was coming cuz they fail to realize that the young people of today are not the people of yesterday and will not tolerate that nonsense. Management fail to realize that times have change and people minds are more open. We now live in an age where everyone knows their rights. I tried to convince them that what used to work yesterday cannot work today, but they want to fight fire with fire. They have their “click” whom they give all the acting appointments, overseas courses , etc, and in return the guys report to them everyday to let them know what is going on in the dapartment. They reporters usually go as far as making up stories on other personel to discredit them so as to not be regarded for acting appointments, ect. This kind of crap that is encourage by management in the department. I can go on and on and on but I will stop here for now. One think I can guarantee is that if there is not a drastic change of attitude by management in the Fire…

  2. Anonymous says:

    I believe all stories have three sides. this story has the cfo side, the association side, and the truth. i find it very hard to believe that the entire staff of an organisation will have a problem with three men at the top and there is no truth to it. i am a firefighter and i have experienced and saw on many occassions the arrogance of the cfo, dcfo. they behave as if they are three sole shareholders of their private business called the ST. Lucia Fire Service in which they can do whatever they please to appease their egos and agendas. they believe that they are untouchable and they continue to show that with their postings and interviews on the media, smh. what good is a management that has no support from their subordinates. the only way the service can get better is when the cancer that is within is extracted. unless that is done there is no moving forward for this service. putting the cfo on contract is no resolution. think about it, if he is put on contract isnt he still the cfo, nonsensical i think. transferring from one department to the other, we are merely spreading the cancer. i am praying that it doesnt have to take a serious disaster to happen for the authorities that be to realise the seriousness of this brave step that we are taking. we are the ones who face the public on a daily basis and we get all the bad publicity not the cfo. i have been to many countries and just by me mentioning that i am a firefighter i get previleges and respect that i…

  3. my man says:

    Talking about procedure chief…five permanent secs had to write asking that you desist from the practice of submitting names of persons for promotion without the due process of advertising those vacancies..were you not being indisciplined and insorbornate?..why were the posts not advertised as procedure requires?..a case of “satan trying to correct Sin” pethaps?..
    The comissioner SIR FRANCIS ALEXIS
    Q.C could not have discribed you any better!! Wow!

  4. Jimboo says:

    “The situation which occurred at the Dennery Fire Station in which the Station Officer there acted in an insubordinate manner to the Deputy Chief Fire Officer, causes one to wonder where the discipline in the Fire Service has gone..”
    The entire world saw what happen at Dennery Fire Station the officer asking the DCFO for his pen, is this what the chief is describing as being insubordinate? What i saw was abuse of power. The DCFO had at least four pens in his pocket yet he felt it’s OK to provoke the officer by taking the officer’s pen.
    Linking this to all the things that the Chief describe in the above paragraphs, how can one trust what he is saying when people are not privy to what had happen. Can we ever trust him?
    “Discipline obviously in shambles despite my efforts” really? lol !!!! just check the inquiry report:

  5. Guava Jelly says:

    Shame on this guy, does he think that stlucians are stupid? the man thinks he owns the fire department and that he is entitled to live off st lucian tax payers. AS far as I am concerned he should not even be given a contract to continue as Fire cheif, but should be unceremoniously dismissed because of his unprofessional behaviour and corrupt practices.Have’nt St.Lucians read the comission’s report and noted the serious alegations made against this guy, where are we living We should change the name of St.Lucia to Mickey Mouse Land Why did Kenny Anthony allow this thing to fester to this point, does Fontinelle have some kind of hold on The Prime Minister? and why would this government abuse tax-payers to pay for an inquiry,the result of which was submitted over a year ago and not act on that report, and then you guys talking about fiscal defecit we know where the money is being wasted


  6. Disgusted fire officer says:

    After reading this post my dear CFO, indeed i am ashamed to have had u at the head of an organization that i love and value so much. U ought to be ashamed and hopefully after u read it disgusted with urself. How do u sleep at nights? Blaming hard working individuals for ur incompetence. Thank you very much for allowing the country to see the devil that u are. I hope that the prayers u requested on our behalf can be returned to u by thr nation because u need it alot more than we do. I pity u. Smh. Truly am disgusted.

  7. Harsh says:

    This CFO is looking for sympathy..who do you think you are fooling?…

  8. Long Gone says:

    Uhmm, imagine that!! The Chief Fire Officer (CFO) has responded. Let me take the time off from my busy work schedule this Saturday evening to address what the island top fire man (don’t think, ….. ummm), let’s leave it as CFO; has said.

    My son (smart bugger) often draws similarities between the CFO and Anakin Skywalker (Character in Star Wars Films) trust me I was lost!! He made one reference to Episode III, last battle scene on planet Mustafar. At the end of the battle where Anakin (the CFO, he says) was laying helpless and broken, still trying to fight Obi Wan (association), Obi Wan cried out in tears, disgusted and ashamed saying “You were the chosen one, it was said you would destroy the Sith not join them. Bring balance to the force not darkness”. Anakin replies “I hate you” and Obi wan looks at him in tears and says “I was your brother…. “.

    Let us all for a moment, forget about two things in the findings of the Commission of Inquiry;
    1. The accusation of sexual harassment and
    2. The recommendations.
    Let us as objective persons put these two aside, and for good reason too! Let us for the moment focus on the content of the inquiry, which for some reason the CFO or DCFO continually evaded media questions on.

    The Current Protest

    CFO please give evidence and dates as to the letters and correspondence the Fire Service Association (FSA) have received from the Public Service Commission (PSC) related to matters after the inquiry. I would further go on to ask…

  9. MKaks says:

    Giving you the benefit of the doubt I pop open an ice cold bud light lime and start reading. When I reached the end of the article I am flabbergasted as to why you would write such an article. Being the educated individual that I am I can only conclude that you at the helm of this department has done more harm than good and by your own account you have been a failure as a leader. Arrogance + incompetence = CIAOS. Not everybody with a damm degree is a good leader. Do some soul searching comrade and give it up, not all men were born to lead.

  10. MKaks says:

    After reading the first two lines of this article no one should read any further. I say so for the simple reason that if you are familiar with the on going situation in the fire service you will know that this article will be anything but objective and only one man’s effort at a chance for redemption. The opening statement is clearly a blatant lie and a direct attempt to mislead the general public but lets for a minute give you the benefit of the doubt, you mean all this going on for years in a dept. you are the head and you are lost? As everyone knows the problems which have triggered these protest actions are not 3 weeks old.

  11. Shane Felix says:

    Fire Service Association Alicia. Not the Fire Service. Just a correctiin there 🙂

  12. Stacy Joe says:

    As a firefighter, at first read I was outraged at the nerve of this man. Then I thought, what exactly do I expect from this arrogant egotistical person?? Paint a picture of your innocence, hiding behind religion and politics. What else would you do if you were a captain of a hopelessly sinking ship which you singlehandedly steered into the rocks. Your arrogance would lead you to blame your crew. Citing them as incompetent. How does that reflect on you? You captained an incompetent crew for years. What actions did you take during that time to see to it that they were competent? None! You thought your ego would suffice. Now who’s to be blamed? Not your “incompetent crew,” you are! Painting a bad picture of firemen/women does not help you dear CFO and neither does it help your party. It is time that you face the fact that it is indeed you who are an incompetent leader and for change to take effect, you need to be removed at the helm. WE WILL NOT BE SILENT!!!!!

  13. Arter says:

    I listen to the fire chief y in the first place they want to transfer Shane to gros islet when there is so many other fire officers there I think the government should transfer every single member of the management of the fire service and move on especially lambert guy in 2014 these guys should not b at the helm of not even a boys scouts

  14. Anonymous says:

    Smh at that man looking for public support by beating around the bush. He must feel that ppl are ignorant

  15. Alicia says:

    Correction Shane Felix is the president of the St Lucia fire service and not the secretary a legal entity as agreed upon by the Attorney General

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