Experienced applicants react to perceived nepotism at Sault Fire Services

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Sault Fire Services were on scene of large industrial fire in the north end of the city overnight April 30, 2021 (Dan Gray/SaultOnline.com)

Multiple applicants have reached out to SaultOnline after the hiring of the Sault Fire Chief Peter Johnson’s son, Ethan. They are concerned not only about the process, but the overall safety of the community as well.

Crews from Pumper 4 work to put out a grass fire, June 24, 2021 (Dan Gray/SaultOnline.com)

Of those that reached out to us, two told us we could use their stories under anonymity as they did not want to affect their current positions at their respective departments or hamper future applications they may submit elsewhere. Given the attention this story has attracted both within the Community and well beyond, a request we can only agree to.

Both individuals grew up in Algoma, both had obtained over 20 years of firefighting experience, including with the Ministry of Natural Resources as well as fighting fires internationally.  One of the two, who was an applicant to the Sault Fire Services at the same time as Ethan, has suggested that the whole process seemed to be tailored to the Fire Chief’s son getting the job.

Sault Fire Services respond for a call on North Street, June 27, 2021 (Dan Gray/SaultOnline.com)

“This past hiring process was delayed for his son to complete his training so he could qualify to apply. Just one more thing that adds to how tailored the process was around one particular individual,” they told SaultOnline. “I feel very upset at this because I took part in a job competition I thought should be fair. It’s held by the fire department. Some of the most respected and trusted members in society as we are lead to believe.”

From Sault Fire Services Facebook

Before Ethan, the most recent hire, Danielle Buckner, the city’s second female firefighter, also had experience with the Ministry of Natural Resources and a volunteer department.

Both were able to give some insight into what is required to even try to become a firefighter in Sault Ste. Marie during the the most recent hiring session.

“So just to be apart of that hiring process and the steps that come along with it, last summer I put my life on hold, taking time off from work to come to Sault Ste. Marie for 6 weeks, committing to the hiring process.  That’s lost wages, time spent, costs of testing that happened in St. Catherine’s… all during a global pandemic,” said the applicant who appeared disillusioned at this outcome.

Sault Fire Chief Peter Johnson, From Sault Fire Services Facebook

“The Fire Chief held an unfair hiring process, tailored for his son, where he gained the attention of many aspiring fire fighters to travel to Sault Ste. Marie during a global pandemic! These individuals, like myself, had spent a lot of money, time and commitment, and feel like it was for nothing. I think about this breech of trust the Fire Chief has committed upon the City and feel this is incredibly serious!… I don’t think I am the only one in my situation feeling the way I do.”

The other firefighter who still hopes that someday he can be a Sault Firefigher stated…

“Over 20 years of experience and I was told to get more experience and maybe next time I too could be a SSMFF.”

For the second time in less than 5 years, our fire department has become headline news, for the wrong reasons.

Fire Chief Mike Figliola Image courtesy Shaw TV

Former Sault Ste. Marie Fire Chief Mike Figliola was let go by the city and faced charges of fraud, uttering a forged document and breach of trust by a public official. These charges were later stayed by the judge at the recommendation of the crown attorney. He paid back the $1000 which was the bases of the fraud charge.

With both of our contacts each having respectively more than 20 years experience, one of them quipped that they have more experience than Ethan has been alive for.

“Now, seeing the recent history, and reputation that the current fire chief and previous fire chief have built for the department, I feel bad for the members working there because I know they are under the spot light right now… and not in a good way this time and are all embarrassed and ashamed of the where they work when this job is only supposed to instill pride and honour in the position.”

Images from the Fire on Wellington Street East in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, January 30, 2021 – (Dan Gray-SaultOnline.com)

Their opinion is that the whole thing should go to court and either the Fire Chief or the Firefighter in question should be relieved of their duties.

“We all know, and have heard multiple times throughout our lives, it’s not what you know but who you know. That’s seems fine for a lot of businesses hiring, but when it comes down to hiring the best and most qualified for a job that pertains to protecting a city where those employees are paid by the city’s tax payers,” stated one of the individuals who reached out.  “I believe and I’m sure most of the city residents agree they deserve the best suited when called upon. I think it’s clear, the chief broke an oath which every fire fighter is sworn into. He put being a good father first before a entire city.”

 

57 COMMENTS

  1. Sault Ste. Marie is a nation wide embarrassment. There needs to be an in depth investigation into the obvious and long time corruption at city hall. In the mean time the corrupt mayor needs to resign on his own accord.

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  2. AP what we are talking about is publicly funded agencies that have rules and regulations that on face value appear to be in violation, We as taxpayers should be disgusted with even the smell of impropriety in our public service, An auditor should look into our hiring practices in every city department,Police,Fire, Ambulance, Public Works, City Hall, I have heard the police are worse than fire department,this info comes from a family member who knows the system and was hired by another Police Service out of town because an Inspectors son was hired instead.recently a cops son was hired when he even failed Soo College.

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  3. Hey Mayor Provenzano maybe you and city counsel should have an independent auditor come in and investigate all city departments including the police recent hires who’s names should sound the same as some who work there still.

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  4. You should do a story on Algoma Steel next. There are some really interesting stories to tell there. You would not believe what goes on there due to nepotism. I could tell a really good one.

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  5. JOHN F you are so right but it’s sad to say the tax payers of SSM will be stuck with the payout bill and Legal Fees, oh well our streets dont have to be fixed do they.

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  6. I had a career of 34 years at the Sault Ste. Marie Fire Department. I believe I know what it takes to be an excellent firefighter. I know Ethan Johnson, he will be an excellent firefighter. Watch him prove it.

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    • Im sure he will be great, I have mentioned it in previous articles that I have heard nothing but great things about him, its how he got there, and who got overlooked in the process that is the point being made here…

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      • AND there is a Hiring Policy in place for a reason, that is clearly being ignored. No Department Head, which is the Fire Chief, should be in a position of hiring, firing or disciplining a family member. (son of fire chief).
        Mirt, with 34 years as a Firefighter you would then agree that you would want the Best candidate, with experience beside you in a fire, and the different ranks that you achieved in your 34 year career, you never handled an investigation process, or issued discipline, did you? This is the responsibility of the Fire Chief. How is this going to be completed, if an issue araises.
        You were a big part of the Bargaining for the Fire Association, so again, how is this going to be handled, when the Fire Chief is negotiating his sons Collective Agreement.
        Chief Johnson should retire, like all other Firefighters that had rank as a Captain/Platoon Chief if they wanted a family member hired.

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        • Mary, after reading your post something came to mind. “Chief Johnson should retire, like all other Firefighters that had rank as a Captain/Platoon Chief if they wanted a family member hired”. The hire can still be assessed as nepotism, as a retired “officer” still has influence within the department. Nepotism is defined as “the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.” by the Oxford dictionary. a retired captain, PC, DC, Chief, etc. would still absolutely have “influence” within the department, as quite frankly they have in previous hires…. So that really doesn’t solve the problem. It comes down to the need for a hiring agency to be involved from the start, and a short list be provided after comprehensive evaluation by the 3rd party and if a family member lands up on that short list based on the criteria so be it, but it would take out the issue of influence and and take away the power of the family members.

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    • I had a career of 130 years at the Sault Ste. Marie Fire Department. I think Ethan is another one of those low-down gangsters who will continue a cycle of nepotistic union blubbering until it is nipped in the bud and their old boys’ game table is flipped once and for all.

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      • 130 years? You must have been hired when you were 20! Oops. You didn’t deserve your job!!’ Sheesh thank … poor example Mister 150 year old… did you feed the horses in the old days?

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  7. Ahh some real journalism! Nice work!

    Fire Chief, like your crooked predecessor, has got to go!!

    Go to some other city to play your nepotism games, we’ve had enough of that in this town.

    Thanks for the negative national headlines that make us look (as usual) like a backwoods shady town. Scandals are getting tiring…APH, Group Health, Former Fire Chief, now current Chief, opioid crisis and on and on. E-N-O-U-G-H

  8. A senior Firefighter was asked to postpone his retirement last year and although it was not said, Firefighters knew it was so Ethan could finish enough training to apply!

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      • Here Susan!!!!!!
        “ Both individuals grew up in Algoma, both had obtained over 20 years of firefighting experience, including with the Ministry of Natural Resources as well as fighting fires internationally. One of the two, who was an applicant to the Sault Fire Services at the same time as Ethan, has suggested that the whole process seemed to be tailored to the Fire Chief’s son getting the job.”

        So assuming hired at the age of 20, oh wait that’s too young according to people on this site, let’s say 30. With 20 years of experience would put them at the age of 50. Why on earth would you hire a person who can give you 5-10 years of service at BEST over a freshly educated hire who can give 30. Susan you got to start doing your math, or read the article. Maybe find something better to do then talk down on first responders. Tailored to the chiefs son? Proof? Where’s the Proof? Ethan went through the process the same way everyone else did, get real. These anonymous claims are fueled with jealousy. Thanks in advance!

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        • Here’s your proof Mark…
          1) first year that high school firefighter co-op program was introduced, it was offered to only Superior Heights where coincidentally chiefs son was a student and was ironically selected.
          2) recruitment timeline was delayed to suit the chiefs son ensuring he had completed his necessary prerequisites FF1 and FF2 and able to apply.
          3) the 2 deputies that were the interviewers are the Chief’s second and third in command are loyal to him.
          And make no mistake there is much more “proof”.

          So therefore Mark, your claim that “Ethan went through the process the same way everyone else did” is simply a pile of BS….Nobody else had the leg up that he did ….nobody!!!”

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  9. Sault Online is the biggest joke out here. Completely spreading false information toward the community. Nice reporting Dan. None of your facts have been verified and you print nothing but opinion of disgruntled non hires. Clearly buddy with more experience than Ethan’a been alive was under qualified because a female and 20 year old, as well as 4 others have been hired before him off the list.

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    • Mark, while usually I am the first to question Dan’s reporting skills, and the odd borderline obsession with firefighters, he has brought a very valid issue forward that in a previous article presented factual evidence of a breach of municipal hiring policies. There is beyond a reasonable doubt evidence that the fire department hiring practices breach the nepotism policies (not just with this hire), and there needs to be an objective external review of this and other hiring practices within the department to earn the publics trust again.

      I personally know two guys on the “list” right now and know for a fact they have more experience, training and life experience than Ethan, so it does raise red flags no matter how you look at it… perhaps if he was one of the last hires off the list this would look far less suspicious, but this has nepotism stamped all over it no matter how you try and paint it.

      There needs to be an external review of all of the applicants from this past hire to determine that the appropriate checks and measures were done when selecting who was interviewed or made the list, as quite frankly names in a hat sounds like how they did it this time.

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    • Dan you are doing a fabulous job, keep it up. I chuckle at the comment of the “disgruntled non hires”. I think Mark, (who might be using a false name, but is quick to accuse Dan of false information) is being disgruntle. I really love how “Mark” points out a FEMALE and a 20 year old got hired. So, entertain the citizens of SSMARIE, what do you mean, when you have to point out that the Fire Chief hired a FEMALE just before he hired his son? Do you have a point?
      Now you want to involve the FEMALE that was recently hired? This FEMALE has no connection to the SSM Fire Department, and it was earned not handed to her and long long over due, as well as other females that have attempted to be hired in this service. Also, I am glad you copy and pasted for Susan. I am still having difficulty reading where it says, “40 year old with back problems”. As you asked in your comment, Where’s the Proof? Careful how you answer “Mark”

      • Okay “Mary”. I’ll just repeat myself. 20 years of experience? So, if the person was hired at 20, 20+20= 40. Am I missing a step? Also, 20 years of experience and still not hired at any hall? Hmm. Just cause you did something for a long time does not mean you are good at it. Keep driving the youth out of the community! There will be nothing left here once all the good people are gone. The new recruit did a co-op at the hall, attended lambton college, and volunteered at prince. His fathers career as a former fire fighter, now chief, obviously was an inspiration and provided experience throughout his career. You are simply upset about this situation for no reason, did you really think you were going to stop Ethan from applying in SSM because of his last name? Everything Dan has wrote about is unverified and has painted the department badly in the media despite his “passion” for the job…thank you for your 2 cents “Mary”, but you can keep it.

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        • Mark,
          So what that Ethan did a co-op with the department. So what he attended lambton college, so what he volunteered with prince… Every single individual on the list or who applied would have had to attend a post-secondary institution to acquire the education to complete an IFSAC or Pro-Board examination to apply for the position (unless they acquired the seals through their volunteer training). Volunteering at prince when he lives in central Sault Ste. Marie means he’s rolled up some hose, and participated in overhaul at their 1 call this year.

          The point people are making is (1) this is a clear violation of the nepotism policy of the city; (2) there are more experienced and qualified individuals on the list so his position on the list is questionable; (3) there were many applicants that met all the requirements that did not even get interviews with far more experience and qualifications that Ethan has; (4) the department needs to be painted badly as this is just one of many issues that need to be addressed in a department that operates in a 1980’s mentality.

          No one is questioning his passion for the job, no one is questioning the fact that he would make an excellent fire fighter, in fact many have suggested he would be a great addition to the department, but how can he be under the command of his father, how can his father be involved in his discipline, or contract negotiations, etc. The list goes on why this was a bad decision….

          The department is certainly not “driving youth” out of the community as their last round of hires involved a 21 year old named Mark, along with many other applicants under 30. But you made a good point using the word “youth”, why would we want “youth” in our fire department, we want mature, experienced (both in fire suppression and life) individuals protecting our community assets.

          There are always going to be two sides to everything. Theres going to be those advocating that policy was not followed, and those advocating that Ethans a great candidate… The reality is if this lands up in court, policy will trump a good guy. And how much money will be spent to remedy this situation, and in the end no one wins… He could have waited until the next round of hires when Dad was set to retire, and that would have eliminated all this negative exposure, and at the same time he would have gained additional life experience.

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          • WELL SAID AARON. I replied to “Mark” without reading your comment first. I obviously echo what you wrote.
            Hoping a good conversation with the Ombudsman will correct this obvious violation in the City’s Hiring Policy.

        • “Mark” Actually you did miss a step, the comment, 40 year old with back problems. Where was anything mentioned about a “back problem”, other than yourself.
          “Simply upset for no reason”. Well if you read most of the comments, there are a lot of people “simply upset for no reason”. Ethan did co-op at the hall, (of course he did) Volunteered in Prince for 1 year before Lambton College(lives in city limits of SSMARIE and has lots of experience) Graduated from Lambton College(Immediately shines so well he was 6th on the hiring list). ALL because of his last name. You got that right “Mark”.
          If this individual is so experienced and scored so well, then we should all expect to see many media releases from other cities that he applied in(If he applied anywhere else) how this young man, followed his dreams, following in his father’s footsteps because of his inspiration and experience throughout his career, has so many job offers throughout Ontario.
          Hiring Policy is in place for a reason. The City of SSMarie needs to follow it.
          Lastly, I diffinately don’t need your approval for my 2 cents. I am a tax payer in this city and I will continue to voice, especially when our Elected people turn a blind eye to a situation that should not have happened.

  10. It’s utterly bizarre that this is even allowed to happen in something as critically important as fire services. If my home is burning down, I want the guy with experience as a new recruit – not some kid who just finished training.

    I am increasingly ashamed to live in this city between this escapade with the fire service and the mayor forcing a legacy project that the majority of the city does not want. The Sault is an absolute embarrassment at this point 🤷🏻‍♀️

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  11. Do we know if Ethan has started yet with the department? Assuming we won’t be seeing a tonne of helmet handover “welcome” pics on social media for when he does start, perhaps something Dan can follow-up on to see if hes actually working or if this is going to an assessment process?

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  12. It’s definitely an interesting perspective to hear these comments from people “within the process”… Its similar to what I have heard, with individuals being told you need more experience (yet they had more experience then this recent hire), some not even getting interviews that had far more experience than this hire, but here’s the deal, he’s not the only one hired because of who he is, and hes not going to be the last. Go back to their facebook page and look at the recent hires from 2018 on…. many of them have parents, uncles, cousins, etc. that were either currently employed or recently retired with the department. What makes this current situation any worse? Its still a who you know scenario. In such a small department, the only logical solution is to use a external recruitment company who can objectively assess the applicants, and provide a “shortlist” to the department to make the final decisions. This would eliminate the whole issue of who you know, and have things solely based on quantifiable data, analyzed by a third party who is NOT blood of someone in the department.

    That all being said, I would still question how much the chief was actually involved, the initial hiring date from what I heard was affected by COVID, not when his son would graduate… The other issue is you just can’t take back someones job offer (without consequence – and rightfully so, he was offered a full-time career job, if that happened to me I would seek as much in damages as possible too!)… So now the issue is how do they move forward from here… The bigger picture is not just the chiefs son, its the whole fire hire process in the first place which is full of nepotism, luck of the draw, and other issues surrounding the process. So many qualified, experienced and good candidates didn’t even make it to interviews based on this process, so something is wrong with the overall process, not just the hiring of the chief’s son (who volunteers with the same female that just got hired!).

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  13. This is the only town i lived in where I seen where nepotism reigns supreme..when I moved here, Fratesi ran city hall and all decisions were made by him.Family and friends were hired. The citizens reacted to this and voted in Mayor Roswell who brought in fresh air. To our current Mayor …where is your spine! You should be speaking out against this.it’s so blatantly obvious to all of us that this is pure nepotism. What about the poor men and women that came and trained to vie for this position, will there be compensation for their time and efforts? There should of been a statement that there is a preferred candidate so these people wouldn’t waste their time and money thinking they had a shot. Shame on you city of Sault Ste. Marie. I sit here shaking my head and laughing because I know there will be nothing done and fortunately this will go on and on and on. It’s just a shame that someone of authority with the capacity to make a change does not stand up and take the RIGHT stance.

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  14. can’t wait to see what explanations are offered for a 20 year old kid beating out someone with 20 years of experience.

    the chief needs to be relieved of his duty.

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    • 40 years of work vs. 20 or under maybe? lol. There isn’t a reasonable explanation on how they did any of their hiring processes this round, or the past few rounds for that matter. This is an issue that’s been ongoing for many years and now just happened to come to a head because its the chief’s son. Last hire included the sons of at least 2 captains/PC’s, guys who coached the chief’s son in sports, and guys who were connected to captains/PC’s family members so how would that possibly be different this time with the same culture in that institution. One of the current PC’s literally told guys “ill get you hired”, so we can’t blame everything on the chief! (*just most)

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  15. None of this is new, and the entire city works the same way.
    A friend of mine applied for the department years ago, in his place the nephew of a former mayor was hired …

    “It’s not who you are, it’s who you know.”

    I’m sure Chief Johnson is writing his resignation letter.

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    • He doesn’t have that many years left, I’m sure the city will give him a payout, full pension, and move on. Not like thats going to fix the issue though, as this is much bigger than just the Chief. Until they fix the whole system, it will just continue under the watchful eye of another chief.

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  16. Shocker. I’ve been part of high level career competitions across several cities and engineered into the competition are checks & balances such as audits to ensure there’s transparency and no conflict. The only times I’ve ever not seen such checks & balances was during the three competitions I was involved in Sault Ste Marie across 2 different public organizations, which was surprising. No declaration, no known audit before the hire/promotion review.
    Perhaps this is what Sault Ste Marie is seemingly in a perpetual period of stagnation punctuated with times of deterioration.

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    • it surely isn’t just the fire department that has this issue. A family member applied to become a paramedic in the sault, and did not even get an interview, with 3 years experience at another department, yet every one of the new grads that did placement there got hired the last round of hiring. Is the paramedic service just lazy to train new staff so just hire the students that just did placement there, or was this a “we know you so we will hire you first” thing. She’s tried three times now to come back to the sault, and now has just given up, and she comes from a busy service down south with far more experience than any single one of those new grads could’ve brought to our community. Its a Sault thing, not just a Sault Fire thing.

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    • Realtalk: Sault Ste. Marie is an incestuous backwater hellhole that somehow votes liberal instead of at least voting for the inbred looking PC candidate that would try to represent it.

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