Comment: February 2019
By Grant Cameron
Finally, it seems, the push to get a national Indigenous Fire Marshal’s Office (IFMO) up and running in Canada appears to be in the home stretch.
This is very good news, in my opinion. It’s been a long time coming and long overdue, as such an office would help set building and safety standards and improve fire safety in Indigenous communities.
The federal government has announced its support for the idea and a House of Commons standing committee has recommended the creation of the IFMO in collaboration with First Nations.
Now, it’s a matter of working out the fine details like timelines and funding.
Such an office is important because Indigenous communities are under federal jurisdiction and not subject to provincial fire and building codes. It is therefore up to each community to enforce standards.
The Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada (AFAC) has been leading the charge on this since it was formed in 1992. The idea has also been wholeheartedly endorsed by a number of important fire service industry heavyweights, including the National Fire Protection Association, Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners, and Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.
Statistics show that First Nations communities across Canada are disproportionally affected by life-threatening and devastating fires because they’re often in remote, isolated and fire-prone areas.
They also have limited access to emergency services and lack of proper fire protection services.
Indigenous communities have a per capita fire incidence rate that is 2.4 times higher than the rest of the country, and loss of life due to fire is also 10 times higher, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
A report by the Ontario Native Fire Fighters Society (ONFFS), meanwhile, indicated that only two of 18 northern communities surveyed had any organized fire protection services at all. Seventeen of the communities had a fire truck, but not a single one met even basic Ministry of Transportation standards.
There is also no central record keeping on causes of fires in First Nations communities, so groups like ONFFS can’t target fire prevention education campaigns.
An investigation by The Toronto Star showed that at least 173 people died in fires in First Nations communities across the country between 2010 and 2017 – and at least 25 of them were children.
The investigation also found that many of the homes that burned to the ground – with people inside them – did not meet basic building or fire code requirements. Many didn’t have a working smoke detector.
An IFMO won’t solve all the fire-safety problems in Indigenous communities. But it certainly is a step in the right direction.
The effort to get a national Indigenous Fire Marshal’s Office up and running in Canada appears to be gaininig momentum. Let’s test your knowledge.