By ANDREW A. SANOJCA
Fire fighters were hampered in their response to a house fire by citizen-vigilantes taking a stand against an alleged drug house on Grand Manan Island, N.B.
By ANDREW A. SANOJCA
GRAND MANAN, N.B. – Fire fighters on the picturesque island of Grand Manan were met with resistance by their neighbours as they responded to a house fire during the early morning hours of Saturday, July 22. Members of the community had decided to take a stand against a growing drug problem on the island and had congregated at the house of a suspected drug dealer at 61 Cedar St. According to an RCMP news release, about 50 people were involved in the confrontation that included the exchange of gunfire between those in the house, and the group of people outside.
The fire department was requested by the RCMP to respond at 12:35 a.m., when the back of the suspected drug house had been set on fire. On arrival, fire fighters quickly extinguished a fire on the exterior of the house.
According to Fire Chief Colin Bagley, "I told our guys that once we had the fire out, we were getting out of there because of the confrontation going on. It was kind of wild." He and his 16 fire fighters returned to the station as soon as the fire was out.
About an hour later, fire fighters were dispatched for a second time to the scene. They again responded with three pumpers, but were blocked at the end of the road by residents and a pick-up truck.
"There was never any violence towards us as fire fighters, however, the driver of the pick-up truck told us that he wasn't going to let us in, that they wanted this house gone, and that they wanted the people living there gone," Bagley told Fire Fighting In Canada. He said he talked with the man and others that had gathered there and told them that his fire fighters wouldn't be able to save the now fully involved house, but that they needed to get it put out before it spread to neighbouring houses.
Fire fighters were delayed for about seven minutes until the RCMP arrived to escort them to the scene.
By that time, the house, a single-storey woodframe structure, was fully involved in fire. The protestors had broken out every door and window after fire fighters were there earlier, and this aided in allowing the fire to gain a strong hold in the building. Fire fighters advanced hoselines and conducted an exterior attack.
There were only three RCMP officers on the island at the time of the confrontation, and they were busy trying to get control of the situation. Fire fighters who were not on hoselines kept watch over their trucks and equipment, and also watched the backs of the outnumbered police officers.
"The crowd was throwing rocks while we fought the fire, but they weren't aimed at us," said Bagley. "They were throwing things back and forth between the two groups of people involved. None of our fire fighters were hit, and none of our trucks got hit by anything." He noted that a car that was parked beside the house had bullet holes in it, as well as all the glass broken out. "If there had been any shooting while we were there, we would have left immediately."
Fortunately there was little wind and the fire was contained to the house without spreading to neighbouring structures. Police managed to get control of the scene, and fire fighters remained on scene for several hours extinguishing the blaze and hot spots.
"I've never experienced anything like that at all," Bagley said in talking about the situation. Fortunately, he hasn't noticed any community resentment towards the fire department or its members since the uprising.
By late summer things appear to have returned to normal on the island. The RCMP held a public meeting with residents, who voiced their concerns about a growing drug problem.
Charges have been laid against eight people, including a 26-year-old Grand Manan man who, according to an RCMP news release, has been charged with two counts of wilfully or recklessly setting fire with disregard for human life.