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

  • Ex-Dragons’ Den star Arlene Dickinson addresses political aspirations

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    TORONTO - “They’re wrong, I’m not running.” Entrepreneur and former Dragons’ Den star Arlene Dickinson has denied a report that a run at federal Liberal politics might be in her future. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Source
  • Bus carrying students on ski holiday crashes and burns, killing 16 [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    ROME — A bus carrying Hungarian school students home from a skiing trip to France slammed into a highway barrier in northern Italy and caught fire, killing at least 16 people, police said Saturday. Thirty-nine people survived, though some were seriously injured. Source
  • ’Sisters of the north’ join Women’s March on Washington [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    WASHINGTON — Hundreds of Canadian women, many of them wearing pink knit hats or carrying signs emblazoned with the maple leaf and the slogan “sisters of the north”, filled the sidewalks of Washington, D.C. Saturday morning as they made their way to a massive rally for women’s rights. Source
  • Protests around world draw hundreds of thousands of women [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    WASHINGTON — Wearing pink, pointy-eared “pussyhats” to mock the new president, hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets in the nation’s capital and cities around the world Saturday to send Donald Trump an emphatic message that they won’t let his agenda go unchallenged over the next four years. Source
  • Signs from Women's Marches around the world captured on social media

    World News CTV News
    On Donald Trump’s first day as president, people from around the world marched in solidarity for women’s rights. Many took to twitter to support the cause or explain why they were marching. Additionally, a large number of them shared some of the best signs they saw or brought to the protests. Source
  • New Jersey man owes more than $56,000 in tolls

    World News Toronto Sun
    TEANECK, N.J. — Transit police say they’ve arrested a New Jersey man who avoided paying tolls nearly 900 times and owes more than $56,000 in unpaid tolls and fees. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police say an officer stopped Alesandel Rodriguez’s car Friday morning after it failed to post a payment in an EZ-Pass lane on the George Washington Bridge. Source
  • 'Scariest moment': Former pro mountain biker speaks out after sudden paralysis

    Canada News CTV News
    A former mountain biker who found himself suddenly paralyzed in his Vancouver home is speaking out, saying he had to wait 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. Andrew Cho, 29, was out for dinner with friends on Jan. Source
  • Women's March on Washington route changed after massive turnout clogs streets

    World News CBC News
    A massive turnout at the Women's March on Washington has forced a change of plans. With the entire planned route filled with hundreds of thousands of protesters, organizers can't lead a formal march toward the White House. Source
  • Pro-Trump rally turns deadly in Nigeria, 20 dead: separatist group

    World News CTV News
    WARRI, Nigeria -- A Nigerian separatist group says the death toll has risen to 20 after a demonstration in support of U.S. President Donald Trump turned into clashes with police. Friday's demonstration in southern Rivers state was organized by the Indigenous People of Biafra, which wants Trump to support the creation of an independent Biafran state for the Igbo people. Source
  • Why are Canadians over 35 barred from signing up to donate bone marrow?

    Canada News CBC News
    A few years ago, Yael Heffer wanted to get on the Canadian bone marrow donor list. But at age 36, she was already too old by standards set by Canadian Blood Services. Heffer is already on the donor list in her home country of Israel, where the age limit is 50. Source