Napanee appoints seventh acting fire chief in seven years

Photo by Logan Cadue/Kingstonist.

With both the Chief and Deputy Chief on leave, the Council of the Town of Greater Napanee unceremoniously appointed a new fire chief at a special meeting held on the morning of Monday, Apr. 15, 2024.

At the meeting, Kenneth ‘Shawn’ Armstrong was appointed as acting Fire Chief for the Corporation of the Town of Greater Napanee. Acting Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Brandt Zätterberg was authorized to execute an agreement with Armstrong for a period of six months from April 15, 2024 to October 15, 2024, “and that such agreement may be renewed or extended by by-law of Council.”

Readers might be familiar with Armstrong, who retired as chief of Kingston Fire & Rescue (KFR) on December 23, 2022, after serving seven years. He had previously been Guelph’s fire chief for 21 years. Since then, he has been a consultant for public safety and continuous improvement at Centred Performance.

Council did not discuss or explain the bylaw used to appoint the new acting chief or the reason one was needed, raising the questions of when and if Bill Hammond, the current fire chief, might be returning and what had become of Deputy Chief Feeney.

On February 23, 2024, the Town confirmed that Hammond would take a leave of absence. Then on February 27, 2024, Council decided that during the absence of the fire chief, Deputy Fire Chief James Feeney would be “appointed as Acting Fire Chief for the Corporation of the Town of Greater Napanee and shall perform such duties and have such authority, powers and rights as assigned to the Fire Chief.” It was further voted that acting CAO Brandt Zätterberg be appointed as “Interim Fire Chief for the Corporation of the Town of Greater Napanee during any period of the Acting Chief’s absence.”

Asked for clarification on Zätterberg’s appointment and seeming lack of experience, the Town provided a statement confirming, “The Town is required by law to have a Fire Chief appointed. As our current Deputy Fire Chief has a planned leave from work, we are required to have someone appointed in his absence. This has been done at other municipalities in the past. Mr. Zatterberg will not be expected to attend a scene as the Town has competent full-time and paid on-call firefighters for that. His roll [sic] will primarily be for administrative tasks such as signing authority, Human Resources matters, and procedural needs.”

Hammond’s last public statement happened at the Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, budget meeting — just days before the abovementioned shakeup within the fire department — when he firmly reminded the Town of his qualifications for the job and sounded the alarm about the Town’s need for more professional firefighters by saying, “You selected me as your chief fire official. I am the fire professional in the room. Certified. Qualified. I’m telling you, we have a staffing issue. If I don’t have vulnerable positions filled on a fire ground and somebody dies… I get it; it’s dramatic. I’m losing sleep over this for two years.” 

When Bill Hammond took on the role of acting fire chief in September of 2022, he was the fourth man to take on the post in just five years. At that time, he shared an optimistic vision for the department, although by July of 2023, he was expressing his opinion to the Council that “people don’t want to take up management positions” with the Town of Greater Napanee. In October 2023, he oversaw the operations at what he called a “once in-a-lifetime career fire” when the Lennox Agricultural Society Memorial Community Centre was destroyed by fire. At that time, Town Council commended Hammond and his team for their integral role in preserving the Town’s safety.

When asked on Monday, Apr. 15, 2024, why yet another acting chief was being appointed with no public discussion, Town of Greater Napanee Communications Clerk Kylie Huffman responded, “The Town will not be providing a statement on this matter.”

Late in the day, Mayor Terry Richardson responded to a separate request for information by explaining that Acting Chief Feeney is now also off on leave.

“We have contracted Acting Chief Armstrong, who will provide consistent leadership and direction to our Fire Department until such time that our full-time fire leadership are able to return to their regular roles,” the mayor relayed.

This is a developing story. Kingstonist will provide updated coverage of this matter as more information becomes available.

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