Nishnawbe Aski Nation calls on Ottawa, Ontario to better fund fire services

By Maan Alhmidi

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO – An organization representing First Nations in northwestern Ontario is calling on the federal and provincial governments to provide better funding for fire prevention and protection in Indigenous communities after three children died in the blaze of a house.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Bobby Narcisse said Friday’s tragedy in Sandy Lake First Nation is the result of inadequate fire protection resources, housing and infrastructure in First Nation communities. nations.

Ottawa and Ontario should help First Nations implement fire safety action plans and ensure all on-reserve homes and infrastructure meet national fire codes, he said. he declares.

“We are essentially asking for equity in terms of resources to do this very important work that is required in our First Nations communities. Narcissus said in an interview.

“No more unnecessary loss of life should occur. And our children and families deserve to have adequate housing, safe housing and safe (fire) prevention infrastructure.

Sandy Lake First Nation Chief Delores Kakegamic said community firefighters rushed to the house which caught fire on Friday, but area fire hydrants weren’t working due to severe weather. cold, and there was only one water tanker driving back and forth to bring water as fast as possible.

Many First Nations communities rely on volunteers with substandard equipment in their local fire departments because they lack the funds to hire a dedicated fire chief and maintain fire prevention services. fires, Narcisse said.

Indigenous Services Canada indicates on its website that it provides base annual funding to First Nations that can be used for fire protection services and fire insurance.

The amount of funding is determined by a formula based on the number of buildings on a reserve, remoteness and population.

The ministry says an average of $33.7 million was spent annually on First Nations fire protection service programs between fiscal years 2015-16 and 2019-20, in addition to capital funding. basic.

A ministry spokesperson said a new fire station at Sandy Lake First Nation was substantially completed last summer with $1.2 million in construction funding from the ministry.

“ISC provides $20,414 per year for the operation and maintenance of the fire truck and related equipment,” said Matthew Gutsch.

He said the department also provides $118,360 annually to the community to support fire protection training and education, such as community fire safety awareness programs and community training programs, including training in the proper use of fire extinguishers, the installation of smoke alarms and the conduct of fire drills. and training of community firefighting and prevention personnel.

Aman Kainth, manager with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management in Ontario, says he supports working with First Nations communities to address fire safety issues.

“We will continue to engage with the Indigenous Federal Office of the Fire Marshal on public education and fire prevention to seek ways to collaborate on issues facing Indigenous communities,” Kainth said in a statement.

Blaine Wiggins, executive director of the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada, said one of the biggest challenges to First Nations efforts to fight deadly fires is that provincial and territorial fire and occupational health and safety standards that affect the fire service do not apply. on First Nations reserves.

“The core issue is these enforceable standards that don’t exist within First Nations communities,” he said.

“Each province and territory has a fire protection law. For First Nations, there is no fire protection law.

Wiggins said some First Nations have developed bylaws and regulations and enforced them to fill this gap, including Rama First Nation north of Toronto, which has had no fatalities since the introduction of a bylaw. fire protection in 2015.

Other issues contribute to the higher fire death rates among First Nations, including housing conditions, lack of maintenance and overcrowding, he said.

Wiggins’ organization has developed home safety assessment standards and its teams have visited 2,000 homes in First Nations communities since last year to ensure the standards are being met.

“They can come in and fix problems, whether it’s smoke alarms not working, electrical issues we’ve identified, or even finding addresses: to make sure the house has an address” , did he declare.

The organization also has a First Nations Fire Service Assessment Program, in which they assess service capacity against the level of service they provide, then provide training and recommendations on fire service issues. equipment, personnel issues, firefighting issues and public safety issues.

A Statistics Canada study found last year that Indigenous people are at least five times more likely to die in a fire in Canada than the rest of the population.

The study commissioned by the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council found that First Nations people living on reserves are 10 times more likely to die in a fire and Inuit are 17 times more likely to die in a fire than non-Indigenous people. -Indigenous.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 17, 2022.

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