Ontario – Fire Protection In Indigenous Communities

‘The system is broken,’ Ontario First Nations firefighters say of fire protection in Indigenous communities

The head of an Ontario organization representing firefighters in Indigenous communities says the current system that dictates how fire protection is handled in First Nations is woefully inadequate and needs to be rebuilt.

Matthew Miller, the president of the Ontario Native Firefighters Society, said the fire-related deaths in Indigenous communities are “frustrating and heartbreaking,” and the fact that people keep dying in house fires “angers” him.

“First Nations fire protection in Ontario and right across Canada, the system is broken,” said Miller, who is also the fire chief for the Six Nations Of The Grand River, southwest of Hamilton. “The system requires complete overall reform; that’s the biggest thing that needs to occur.”

“The formula-based funding approach that’s been in place for three decades, four decades, is not working.”

Miller’s comments come in the wake of a deadly early morning fire in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, also known as KI or Big Trout Lake, on May 2 that killed five people — four of them children under the age of 13. The community’s chief, Donny Morris, said that a lack of adequate firefighting equipment, including hydrants with enough water pressure, hampered efforts to put out the blaze.

Part of the problem, Miller said, is that information on the level of fire protection in a given community often is not accurate. For example, he said his organization has completed fire assessments in a number of First Nations and what they found often doesn’t line up with federal statistics.

“We would have a list of the First Nation and what they were listed as in the federal database — whether or not they have fire protection — and KI was typical of many of the First Nations that we went to … they were listed as having fire protection but when we arrived in the community, they did not have fire protection,” he said.

“By that I mean … they may have received a fire truck in the past but unfortunately, an organized fire service was unable to be able to be established.”

Miller said there are no regulations or legislation governing fire protection in Indigenous communities, unlike that for municipalities. Furthermore, while cities and towns have specialized risk assessments in place and plans to cover them, he said there’s no such thing for First Nations.

“When you treat every First Nation exactly the same way, with a formula, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” he said. “Every First Nation is unique and they have their own issues.”

“A municipality knows their risk because they have a community risk assessment done, they have the data to back up the service level they require for their protection of their community, but none of that exists for First Nations across Canada.” – CBC News

read full article here

“By that I mean … they may have received a fire truck in the past but unfortunately, an organized fire service was unable to be able to be established.”

If the community has no interest in protecting their community against fire, then why should I care?

The deaths in KI were preventable.  That is the sad part.

Rural communities across the province have volunteer fire departments.  They practice using the equipment regularly. They ensure the equipment is working.

No point in having a truck in a remote community if there is nobody living there that can fix it if it breaks down.   The fire truck in KI was not operational.  No point in having fire fighting equipment if nobody knows how to use it OR is willing to learn.  People need to practice and practice and practice.

With the Cat Lake fiasco and now the fire up at KI, I am beginning to believe that the remote reserves are overflowing with incompetence at the leadership level.

Nothing bad that happens on a remote reserve is ever the fault of the communities’ leadership. Nothing is ever the fault of the people that live there.  Nobody is responsible for the safety of their own home.

Miller said there are no regulations or legislation governing fire protection in Indigenous communities, unlike that for municipalities.

Sooo?  Whose fault is that?  Band Council. Can they not make regulations and ensure they are enforced? Is that not their job?

“When you treat every First Nation exactly the same way, with a formula, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” he said. “Every First Nation is unique and they have their own issues.

Every city in Canada can say the same thing.  When it comes to fire safety and health issues, all First Nations have the same requirements. In my mind, the main difference is the location.

Isolation makes a big difference.  Remote communities need to be more self reliant.  If you know that help is not going to come, then being prepared is especially important.  Prevention needs to be the main focus.  Prevent a fire form starting.  THAT is the job of the Band Council members.  The Councils of KI and Cat Lake failed in their responsibility.

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5 Responses

  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous at | | Reply

    Fire trucks left outside to freeze are trashed and this is never the native’s fault.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous at | | Reply

    Smoke detectors? Does their “leadership” require working smoke detectors? Do they ever inspect them?

  3. Norm
    Norm at | | Reply

    Why would we have an Ontario Native Firefighters Society? Isn’t that racist? Do we have an Ontario White Firefighters Society?

    I strongly agree that the deaths in KI were preventable. What I cannot fathom is how the chief seems oblivious to the negligence of his leadership (?) that left this community without fire protection.

    Check out
    http://search.211north.ca/record/KEN0776 (last updated March 5/19)

    It names a band Fire Prevention Officer and says the band is:
    Responsible for fire prevention and administration of the Ontario Fire Code
    Issues applicable burn permits required for brush piles, incinerators and open fires, excluding campfires
    Maintains an on-reserve fire hall

    Provides the following services:
    Education
    Emergency planning
    Fire investigation
    Fire suppression
    Hazardous materials information
    Home safety which includes ensuring all homes are equipped (and annually inspected) with smoke alarms and charged fire extinguishers

    Somebody needs to be held responsible for these deaths. Although there was never an intent to harm anybody, the blatant negligence associated with the band’s fire prevention and response services caused these deaths. Legal action will foster responsibility vs excuses.

    The community as a whole needs to step up too. Hardly anyone in KI works, yet nobody can find the time to volunteer to check smoke detectors or join a volunteer fire department??

    What we will no doubt hear is that more money is needed. How’s that working?

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