Fire Fighting in Canada

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First Nations call for fire department funding

Jan. 28, 2011 – Fire-service and aboriginal leaders are demanding that Ottawa properly fund fire departments on First Nations reserves.

January 27, 2011
By Stefanie Croley

Jan. 28, 2011 – Fire-service and aboriginal leaders are demanding that Ottawa properly fund fire departments on First Nations reserves.

There have been nine fire-related deaths on Canada’s First Nations communities in the last year. Two young boys were reported today to have died as a result of smoke inhalation from a fire earlier this month on the Summer Beaver First Nations community.

The Six Nations Fire Department in Ontario said Thursday that aboriginal fire services are poorly funded by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and need support from fire-service leaders to press Ottawa to update the funding formula.

Ottawa provides $15 million for fire services in Canada’s First Nations communities. There are more than 630 First Nations communities across the country. Not all First Nations communities have fire departments but fire-service leaders say the $15 million is not nearly enough to properly fund even a fraction of those departments.

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Six Nations Fire Chief Michael Seth says in a press release that a report by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reinforces what First Nations leader already know – that the funding formula has not been reviewed and updated in more than 13 years and is below internationally recognized standards.

The release also says the Assembly of First Nations, the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs are calling for a “comprehensive, risk-based review of INAC’s funding formula.”

"This is a national issue and we are looking to government to step up and ensure funding is available to provide the safety and protection for the public," says OAFC President Tim Beckett.

Sean Tracey, Canadian regional manager for the National Fire Protection Association, wrote about the funding issue in the September issue of Fire Fighting in Canada. He says fire prevention and public education for First Nations communities is being overlooked.

“INAC sees themselves as a funding source, which doesn’t make for sustainable fire departments,” says Tracey

“There are some small First Nations communities that can’t sustain and support fire departments because they have no public education programs,” he says.

Beckett agrees: "Education
and prevention measures can make a big difference in a community. Preventing fires ensures that we can reduce
fire deaths and injuries and further reduce property damage."

“We want [First Nations communities] to create a risk-based model, similar to what any other community would have to do in North America," says Tracey. "We would like to see [INAC] consider this as well as reviewing operations. There has to be a balanced approach.”

A Manitoba First Nations chief told CBC in October that the province’s 63 First Nations communities share just $3.2 million a year from INAC.

“You've got to maintain your truck and you've got to maintain equipment,” said Keewatinowi Okimakanak Chief David Harper.

But Tracey says INAC doesn’t recognize the challenges associated with equipment maintenance and fire prevention.

“In my opinion, there are some legal responsibilities and obligations that INAC has not been held to,” Tracey said in an interview. “Thankfully, there have been no fatalities or issues, but we need to re-think the whole model of how we’re providing risk-based fire protection services for First Nations communities in Canada.”

A CBC investigation into fire services on First Nations reserves, called Fire Service in Crisis, can be viewed here .