Sunday, August 31, 2014
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Fire fighting on reserves needs more attention, officials say

Volunteers need hands-on training, commissioner says

CBC News

Richard Kent, the commissioner of emergency and protective services for the Prince Albert Grand Council, says more training is needed to improve fire protection on reserves.

Kent works with 12 First Nations of the PAGC, in 26 different communities.

He says volunteer firefighters need to know how to fight fires safely.

"They need more hands-on training," Kent told CBC News "They need more live fire training to be able to effectively go into a burning building safely and come out safely."

He says proper training for a volunteer firefighter takes at least 12 weeks. A fully certified firefighter goes through 10 months of training.

"There's so much information for a firefighter nowadays, because we respond to so many emergencies, that it's a real struggle to have them trained up to where they're 100 per cent ready to go at all time," he said.

Many reserves rely on volunteers and often, he says, those people are away from the community when a fire occurs.

"Our First Nation fire departments, they really don't have the money to pay their firefighters," he said. "They don't have the money to get a full-time fire chief, and that's something that's really needed. We need somebody to be there to answer the call when an emergency call comes in."

Kent noted that fire prevention is also a major issue as many reserve homes fall short of meeting national fire codes.

Saskatchewan's Children's Advocate, Bob Pringle, added the recent tragedy on the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, where two boys died in a house fire, underscores the need for change.

"I think it's important for all of us to look in the mirror and ask what should we have done here? What could we do better?" Pringle said. "This shouldn't happen again. ... We seem to wait until tragedies and then we try to fix issues."

Federal minister responds

A press secretary for Bernard Valcourt, the federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs, provided a short statement in response to a request for comment about the fire fighting needs of First Nations, in light of the recent house fire.

"This is a tragic event and our thoughts are with the families and the members of the community during this difficult time," the response said. "Our government provides funding to all First Nations to support fire protections on reserve and through this funding First Nations manage fire protection services on reserve to meet the needs of their communities."

Here is the complete text of the response from Valcourt's office:

"This is a tragic event and our thoughts are with the families and the members of the community during this difficult time. Our Government provides funding to all First Nations to support fire protections on reserve, and through this funding First Nations manage fire protection services on reserve to meet the needs of their communities.

"Our Government invests $120,000 to the Prince Albert Grand Council for fire protection training for their member First Nations, including Pelican Narrows. In addition, we invest $200, 000 annually to train on-reserve volunteer fire fighters. In the case of Pelican Narrows, our Government also provided direct funding to the First Nation for Fire Protection Capital.

"For more information on the community’s fire services, please contact the First Nation directly."

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