01/20/2016 05:22 EST | Updated 01/20/2016 05:59 EST

Spaniard's Bay Fire Department Rocked By Harassment Scandal, Mass Resignations

At least 20 members of a volunteer fire department — including the chief — in Spaniard's Bay, Nfld. resigned Tuesday over a controversy involving its only female member.

The resignations leave the town without fire protection in the near future, according to local newspaper The Compass.

Brenda Seymour, a town councillor and volunteer firefighter, told CBC News she faced harassment from male colleagues and their wives because of her gender and dedication to her job.

Seymour, who did not resign, says she has faced harassment, intimidation, and has been overlooked for promotion.

"You might want to go home and wash that, we jerked all over it."

She is one of only two Level II certified firefighters in the brigade, and says she has been passed over for executive positions.

Seymour said she decided to speak out after an incident last year when she noticed her balaclava was missing from her locker in October.

She said when she went to the chief gave her a replacement, another firefighter said, "You might want to go home and wash that, we jerked all over it."

Seymour told 590 VOCM the most uncomfortable moment happened in April 2014 when a guest instructor played a pornographic film at the end of a training session.

As the only woman in the room, she said she was "flabbergasted."

"I was frozen."

Simmering tensions

Spaniard's Bay Mayor Tony Menchions told CBC News he was "shocked" by the resignations, "but not surprised."

"There's not a lot I can say right now, but we're going to try to work through it, and see what happens over the next few days," he said.

"It has to be exposed and bled out, and it has to be stopped."

He said fire departments from nearby towns are helping out for the time being, according to VOCM.

In 2010, Seymour was suspended and dismissed from the brigade for overstepping her bounds, after she tried to secure funding to attend a training course. She has also discussed the fire department in her role as town councillor, according to The Compass.

A study conducted by a former chief of the Spaniard's Bay Fire Department found no evidence of gender bias in her dismissal, but did conclude suspending her from the department was unjust. In March 2011, Seymour was reinstated.

According to The Compass, Seymour made two motions during a town council meeting last November calling for the removal or suspension of fire chief Victor Hiscock.

The move was defeated 4-3 after the mayor voted in favour of the fire chief. Another motion to reevaluate and restructure the council was also defeated.

Seymour said after that council meeting, her treatment at the fire department got worse.

While out walking, she was hit by a coffee cup thrown from a passing vehicle, according to CBC News. She also received a copy of a conversation in which five of the firefighters' wives called her a "slimy bitch," and discussed hiring a hitman.

Seymour says her experience has been "mind blowing."

"It has to be exposed and bled out, and it has to be stopped," she said.

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