Wednesday, February 5, 1997

Serving the public interest

There are two things wrong with the selection last week of a new alderman to fill the city council seat left vacant by the departure of John Dalton: who was selected and how he was selected.

First, the matter of the man. We have no problem with Bob Brooks as an individual. He is a respected member of the Yellowknife community with a record of public service, including council experience.

Rather, it is his job we find worrying. Brooks, as the Executive director of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, is a lobbyist for local business. It is likely that, sooner or later, the interests of his employer will conflict with the interests of the community he is to serve as an alderman.

Worse, Brooks has already been chosen as an alternate for the Yellowknife development appeals board, a panel that regularly weighs the interests of businesses against the larger community.

Just as troubling is the manner in which Brooks was chosen. City council once again demonstrated its obsession for secrecy by considering the candidates behind closed doors.

Mayor Dave Lovell's excuse that the appointment of an alderman is a "personnel" matter is, to be blunt, absurd.

There's no need to get into an argument over whether personnel matters are confidential -- although we could -- as common sense tells us that "personnel" has nothing to do with it. It should be clear to Lovell and the entire council that anything useful a councillor has to say about appointing one of their own can and must be said in public.

Anyone afraid of speaking to the matter publicly has no business taking part in the decision.

So, with all due respect to Bob Brooks, council should choose someone else, and do it in public. (5/Feb/97)

A salute to a few brave souls

That firefighting can be hazardous was demonstrated Saturday night when two Yellowknife firefighters were injured saving the home of retired Anglican bishop John Sperry and his wife.

One firefighter received a back injury while the other was knocked off a ladder by a 220-volt electrical shock.

Today both men and women battle blazes. As deputy fire chief Mike Lowing says, the fire department is a gender-neutral organization.

All share the same risks and must have the physical abilities to do the job, which can be a brutally tough one. A storefront window blown out under the pressure of superheated gases can destroy a firefighter's sense of balance and hearing and put an merciless end to a career.

Fighting fires means having to endure extreme temperatures such as -40 C or broiling inside heavy protective clothing in summer's blast furnace. It means using special tools to cut and pry apart vehicles to free trapped crash victims whose cries of pain can haunt you for weeks. It means climbing aerial ladders that many would only get part way up before freezing with fear -- and sometimes carrying people down those same tall ladders.

Lowing says the cancer rate of Canadian firefighters is two or three times that of the general public due to repeated exposure to the products of combustion, laden with toxic gasses.

Until this fire on the weekend, the last time two firefighters were injured tackling the same blaze was three years ago. But lacerations, sore backs and twisted ankles are commonplace.

As Lowing says, the volatility and unexpected nature of fires means fires don't follow a game plan. And it takes brave firefighters to lay their lives on the line time after time. (5/Feb/97)