News » Whistler

Saurette considering lawsuit against Squamish

Issues of leadership, drinking at fire hall dividing community



The disgruntled ex-fire chief for the District of Squamish may sue the municipality that terminated him.

Ray Saurette, formerly Squamish's fire chief for nine years, said in an interview that he's considering a lawsuit against the town, which claims it terminated him earlier this month over issues relating to his leadership.

"That's a possibility," he said when asked whether he'll sue, though he hasn't yet filed anything with the courts.

Almost immediately following his firing, Saurette released a statement to the media that claimed he was targeted by volunteer firefighters after he tried to implement a "no alcohol" policy at the firehall.

He said in his statement that firefighters kept a stash of gum to mask the smell of booze on their breath, adding in a later interview that firefighters would go out to a call, come back for beers at the hall, then go out on the trucks again if a call came in.

After trying to implement the no-alcohol policy, Saurette said volunteers sent a number of e-mails to Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Ramsay that attacked his leadership.

He was terminated at a closed door meeting with council on Dec. 15.

Squamish Mayor Greg Gardner has said Saurette's "allegation that he was terminated because of alcohol-related issues is absolutely not true."

The chief's firing has divided the community of Squamish between those who support the chief and those who support allowing firefighters to drink at the fire hall.

The Squamish Chief website has been flooded with comments advocating both sides, with some arguing that firefighters should not attend fires after drinking, while others have said, anonymously, that Saurette himself was the problem within the department.

The firing has also triggered the creation of a Facebook group titled "Ban Fire Hall Drinking," which is intended as a forum to discuss the issue. As of earlier this week it had drawn 15 members.

Now, Saurette is trying to restore his credibility and a lawsuit is not out of the question.

"I'm just trying to figure out where we're going to go," he said. "Ideally I'd like to have my job back but I'm not holding my breath on that one."

On Tuesday Saurette sent Pique a statement demanding that council release all the information relating to his termination, as well as an alcohol policy that was presented to council on Dec. 16, 2008.

He claims in his statement that at that time, he was instructed to implement a no-alcohol policy at the fire hall that applied to all other District of Squamish property.

He then said that a committee led by "senior volunteer" firefighters formed and that he was soon after instructed by then-CAO Kim Anema to stop implementing that policy and arrange the lease of a room in the fire hall where the no-alcohol policy wouldn't apply.

"The only logical reason to make these arrangements is to intentionally bypass the District alcohol policy," he wrote.

Saurette wants a public forum because he feels that council has "compromised public safety" in allowing drinking at the hall.

Asked to release the relevant documents himself, he said he can't do it because they were discussed in an in camera meeting.

"It would be an agreement from both parties that we release all documentation related to my termination and the issue of alcohol," Saurette said in an interview. "It can be that or just a release of all the documents to the media and the media can scrutinize the information and do what they think is appropriate with the information they read and see."

Gardner said making such documents public would have to come at the behest of council.

"We'd have to consider that," he said. "The circumstances of his termination are not something that we in the normal course would discuss in public, so that would be a decision that we would have to make."

Asked whether the District of Squamish would consider hosting a public forum on the issue of alcohol at the fire hall, Gardner said he's not sure why the district should bother.

"I don't know what the impetus would be, frankly," he said. "As I've said in the media before, I've no knowledge of firefighters reporting to calls under the influence of alcohol. Ray Saurette was fire chief for nine years, he never brought that to my attention.

"We have requested from him details of incidents, those have not been forthcoming."



Add a comment