The St. Lucia Fire Service Association (SLFSA) and the management of the St. Lucia Fire Service (SLFS) are at war again.
This time the SLFSA is accusing Chief Fire Officer Leslie Fontenelle of forcing them out of their Monoel Street, Castries office.
Former president of the SLFSA Shane Felix told St. Lucia News Online (SNO) today, August 29, that the association is now without an office after all the locks were changed and the keys taken away. Felix told SNO that the SLFSA has been in this situation for the past three weeks.
He admitted that Fontenelle had written the association, informing them of the relocation.
“The chief fire officer doesn’t have the sole right to decide to relocate us. Anything that has to be done with the association has to be done in consultation,” Felix said.
However, Deputy Chief Fire Officer Lambert Charles has debunked the arguments. He told SNO today that the office is located within the administrative block and the plan was to have the office relocated within the same building. The instruction, he said, came directly from Fontenelle.
Charles stated that the association was written to, on two occasions, and failed to respond. According to him, a senior fire officer even had a discussion with Felix regarding the relocation and he (Felix) made it clear to the officer that the SLFSA will not be moving.
The deputy chief fire officer asserted that such behaviour will not be tolerated at the SLFA.
“For an officer who has been credited with a facility of having an office, to refuse to move to another office when directed by the chief, is tantamount to gross indiscipline,” he added.
Charles told SNO that the SLFS is not obligated to provide an office for the SLFSA, but has done so in good faith.
“They are in a position to rent office space because they collect dues from its members, however, the chief did not consider that at all, he just asked that they be relocated to another office, not for them to leave the building,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Felix said that upon discovering that the locks were changed he called to inquire from Fontenelle about his decision and was disconnected.
“He has since informed members of the SLFSA via a general circular that the association is operating illegally, because in his opinion, the association’s two-year tenure is up and its reports have not been submitted.”
Further, Felix has accused the fire chief of refusing to approve meetings for the association. “Not for the executive, not for the association to meet with the Trade Union Federation, and now that you have negotiations ongoing with the government, it means that the association is not able to make proper representation on those issues for its members,” he added.
The SLFSA said it is afraid that its documents could be tampered with. Felix told SNO that the issue has now moved beyond attacking the members and executives of the SLFSA, but the attention has now been shifted on him personally. The former head stated that this is fueled by his action to speak out on matters affecting members within the SLFS and his calls to have the recommendations from the Commission of Inquiry (COI) acted upon.
“They are basically out to attack me to ensure that the work of the association does not continue,” he claims.
Felix pointed to situations where the Ministry of National Security having to step in and instruct the management of the fire service to recognise the various persons, including himself, who are members of the executives of the SLFSA.
Felix said unless the issues relating to the COI are addressed, fire officials will continue to face challenges and the abuse of authority are likely to escalate. Members of the SLFSA have responded to the recent incident and have suggested to Felix, some avenues by which they can take to have their concerns addressed.
However, Felix said the fact that he and executives are barred from meeting with members, makes it hard in finding consensus on the way forward.