Nearly half of First Nations have 'little to no fire protection': report

WINNIPEG -- An internal federal government report says almost half the First Nations across Canada have "little to no fire protection" and rely too heavily on poorly trained volunteer firefighters who can't do the job.

See Full Article

The 2011 report examining insurance coverage for First Nations communities, obtained by The Canadian Press through Access to Information legislation, found only 56 per cent of First Nation sites across Canada have adequate fire protection -- most because they depend on a neighbouring municipality.

British Columbia and Manitoba had the highest percentage of First Nation sites with little to no fire protection while First Nations in Atlantic Canada had the most sites with adequate service.

"The number of fire-related deaths in First Nations is also a major concern," the consultant's report said. "The fire death rates in First Nations are substantially higher than those off reserve."

The report found that fire incidence rates for First Nations are 2.4 times higher than for the rest of Canada. First Nations residents are also 10 times more likely to die in a house fire.

The victims are often young children.

A two-year-old boy and an 18-month-old girl were carried by their father from a burning home this year on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan reserve in Saskatchewan. They were pronounced dead at the scene. The fire department from a neighbouring municipality didn't respond due to a funding dispute with the First Nation.

Two-month-old Errabella Harper died in a house fire on the St. Theresa Point First Nation in 2011. At the time, the community's fire truck was broken, with no fire hoses and no one knew where the keys were.

A second fire about two months later on the God's Lake Narrows First Nation killed Demus James and his two grandchildren. Neighbours tried unsuccessfully to douse the flames with buckets, wet towels and a low-pressure hose. An inquest into the deaths found the reserves were woefully unprepared.

Reserves rely too much on volunteers who aren't properly trained to protect homes that are dilapidated and not built to code, the government report found. There is a high attrition rate and volunteers don't "adequately serve the public interest," it added.

As the Liberal indigenous affairs critic, Carolyn Bennett called federal funding for fire protection services "appalling." Now indigenous affairs minister, Bennett said the report's findings are "not acceptable."

First Nations need better fire prevention tools and adequate housing, as well as the ability to fight fires when they break out, she said.

"We think there are far too many First Nations families living in homes that other Canadians wouldn't be subject to," Bennett said in an interview. "This is a goal for all of us and for all Canadians -- they don't think that First Nations people should be living in third-world conditions."

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents northern First Nations, said the lack of fire protection provided to First Nations would never be tolerated in any other Canadian community.

"It's appalling," North Wilson said. "Are we second, third-class citizens?"

First Nations have very little discretionary spending and fire protection has to go up against housing, education, water and sewer systems, she said. Deliberately under-funding basic priorities like fire protection is "racist," she said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada said the government takes issue with parts of its report. The report "does not provide a complete picture of fire protection coverage in First Nation communities today," said Michelle Perron, in an emailed statement.

A reserve can have more than one site, some of which may not have housing or infrastructure and "therefore no fire protection service," she said.

On Wasagamack First Nation, a remote northern Manitoba reserve, last week, a brand-new youth centre which hadn't even opened yet burned to the ground.

Chief Sharon Mason said the volunteer fire department was only able to keep the fire from destroying the adjacent community hall.

It was the best the department could do with an ancient fire truck that still bears the name of a town in the United States.

"We need a proper fire hall. We need a truck that actually works. We need supplies for our volunteers," she said, adding the reserve can't afford to lose any homes because it is already struggling with a chronic housing shortage.

"Fire safety is really critical."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Evacuations urged near Guatemala's erupting Volcano of Fire

    World News CTV News
    GUATEMALA CITY -- Disaster co-ordination authorities have asked 10 communities in Guatemala to evacuate and go to safe areas after an increased eruption of the Volcano of Fire. The 10 communities have at least 2,000 residents, but each community will decide if they evacuate or not. Source
  • Rain could complicate search for California wildfire victims

    World News CBC News
    The search for remains of victims of the devastating northern California wildfire has taken on new urgency as rain in the forecast could complicate those efforts while also bringing relief to firefighters on the front lines. Source
  • Sentencing set for man after guilty plea in family killings

    World News CTV News
    DENVER -- A Colorado man is set to be sentenced Monday after pleading guilty to murdering his pregnant wife and their two young daughters and dumping their bodies on an oil work site. Christopher Watts pleaded guilty on Nov. Source
  • Will Kelly stay or won't he? Trump praises, criticizes aide

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump isn't committing to a previous pledge to keep chief of staff John Kelly for the remainder of his term, part of widespread speculation about staffing changes that could soon sweep through his administration. Source
  • Rain could hinder search for victims of California wildfire

    World News CTV News
    PARADISE, Calif. -- The search for remains of victims of the devastating Northern California wildfire has taken on new urgency as rain in the forecast could complicate those efforts while also bringing relief to firefighters on the front lines. Source
  • Curling team ejected from tournament for being 'extremely drunk'

    Canada News CBC News
    The curling foursome of Jamie Koe, Ryan Fry, Chris Schille, and DJ Kidby was kicked out of the Red Deer Curling Classic on Sunday for "unacceptable behaviour" that included being "extremely drunk." The four were ejected from the World Curling Tour event and forced to forfeit their final match. Source
  • Landslides kill 13, leave 4 missing in south central Vietnam

    World News CTV News
    HANOI, Vietnam -- Landslides due to rains from a tropical storm have killed 13 people and left four others missing in south-central Vietnam. A disaster official in Khanh Hoa province says some 600 soldiers have been mobilized to search for the missing and evacuate people from high-risk areas. Source
  • Stampeders hope 3rd time's a charm after booking Grey Cup ticket

    Canada News CBC News
    The Calgary Stampeders have been here before. The last two seasons have gone according to plan for the mighty Stamps until the championship game. They were the heavy favourites two years ago against Ottawa only to lose to Henry Burris and the Redblacks in overtime. Source
  • Albertans raising money, supplies for horses affected by California wildfire

    Canada News CTV News
    A group of Albertans are raising money and collecting supplies for the horses released by their owners as they fled the deadly northern California wildfire. Retired Rancher Darrell Glover, who lives near Olds, Alta. Source
  • Canadian dead more than a week after plane crash in Guyana: Global Affairs

    Canada News CTV News
    A Canadian citizen who was aboard a plane that crashed through a fence at Guyana's main international airport has died, the federal government said Sunday as it extended its condolences to the person's family. A spokesperson for Global Affairs said the agency was providing consular assistance to the family, and noted that officials are in touch with local authorities to gather more information. Source