Deer Island – Multiple efforts are under way to help the 130 employees of Paturel International after an early morning fire Thursday gutted the Deer Island processing plant.
“I have been talking to management and Stuart McKay (plant manager), and they are very committed to the island and the people on the island,” said Minister of Agricultural, Aquaculture, and Fisheries Rick Doucet, who is also the MLA for Fundy-The Isles-Saint John West.
“They have a very good workforce, and they are working with employees making sure no one is going to fall through the cracks and that they are taken care of.”
Doucet said Monday the first information session for the employees will be held Wednesday, March 7 at 1 p.m. with representatives from his department, and Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour as well as Service Canada who will talk to the employees, and see how they can help them.
“It was a devastating loss but, after having the opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with the company CAO and Stuart, it is absolutely amazing how they have started looking forward.”
It is expected at least half of the employees will be able to return to work in a part of the plant which was not impacted by the fire, said Doucet, and there has been an outpouring of support from other local companies saying they have gaps and need some employees.
“There has been a tremendous amount of cooperation between all parties to make this happen. No one is going to be left behind. They should be going back to work in the coming weeks. The company is very committed to its employees and is going to do everything possible to make sure everyone is taken care of.”
Doucet said Paturel’s customer base is extremely important, and this plant plays a significant part in exports, not only to the US, but to Asia and Europe as well, and the company has to ensure its continuum of products.
After talking with company officials, Doucet said there is a ray of optimism, and Paturel will rise from the ashes with plans for the building of a bigger and better plant.
“My understanding is they are well insured, and the company has been very supportive of Stuart moving forward as quickly as possible. They are starting the process of cleaning up and they are starting basically from scratch.
“In the meantime, they are going to have some contingency plans to take care of the market place and the employees, and do everything possible for the people of Deer Island. The first day it was devastation but now they are moving forward with a lot of hope and optimism.”
With the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement as well as the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership, Paturel has the opportunity to expand its markets, said Doucet, and the Deer Island plant has a significant part to play.
There were some concerns on the island the company might pack-up and leave after the fire, but Doucet said Paturel is here to stay and is going to build an even better plant.
“They are strong and I think a lot of it is the strength of the island. Here is a case of together we can do it. It is not going to be an easy road but it is important we are working together and pulling together in the same direction.”
The fire broke out around 2.22 a.m. Thursday morning, and the alarm was raised by some employees who were at the plant.
The cause of the blaze is still under investigation by representatives of the fire marshal’s office who were back on the scene Friday.
This is the second blaze at Paturel, as fire destroyed a lobster tank house there last September which also put some employees out of work.
Employee Paul Richardson said the first he knew about the fire was when he turned on the radio after he woke up Thursday morning, and heard it on the news.
“Of course it is a total shock. It was the total destruction of the storage, refrigerator unit, all of the lobster in the freezer, at least one fork lift and all the packing materials.
“We are really devastated because so many of us have ongoing bills – car payments and mortgages are the greatest – so there is that concern. It takes a while for EI to kick in for those of us fortunate enough to be able to get it.”
Paturel is a major employer on the island, said Richardson, and a large proportion of local residents work there. He said more than 10 per cent of the families on the island are directly affected by the loss.
About 50 per cent of the work force is from the Philippines and many have made Deer Island their permanent home.
Laurie Parris, executive director of the Multicultural Association of Charlotte County, said the organization is doing whatever it can to help those who have been affected by the fire.
“We have put ourselves out there for any of the employees, not just the Filipinos. They can contact us and we are trying to coordinate things. This is more than 100 people out of work. We are acting as a central place for people to contact.
“We have talked to several different people within the community so we have resources available. To me, the first thing that comes to mind is, if you are not working, you don’t have an income. We need to make sure they don’t have to worry about groceries.”
Parris said everybody has pulled together to deal with this crisis and she wants the employees to know they can contact the MACC (755-9295) or stop by the office on Main Street in St. George.
“They can contact us and let us know what their needs are and we will find resources for them. We will be the coordinating centre for them. That goes for all the employees.”
Greg Hooper, owner of Uncle Mayn’s convenience in St. George, has put out a challenge to all the businesses in the community to step-up and help the people who have been put out of work by the fire. He has provided 130 coupons for pizza and 130 coupons for large fish and chips for the employees.
Praise for local firefighters
Doucet was full of praise for the local firefighters who rushed to the island to help fight the early morning blaze.
The Deer Island firefighters were joined by St. George, Blacks Harbour, Fundy Bay, and Saint Andrews with Pennfield and Musquash on back up for mutual aid.
“These firefighters were on site at 3:30 a.m. battling that blaze. These people are volunteers. To do the things these people do is absolutely remarkable. While we were all asleep, they were going out, putting their lives in danger to try and save something.”
Doucet said everyone really pulled together and he heard some of the local kids were cooking pancakes for the firefighters the next day.
“That is what makes me so proud of our community. As a community we have been through some rough times in the past, but it is about sticking together, working together and making sure we have a better outcome in the end.”