National standards for fire safety are vitally important: KFB captain

By Marc Lalonde

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Kahnawake Fire Brigade wasn’t a part of last week’s inaugural First Nations First Responders Gathering held in Ottawa last week because of a scheduling conflict, but federal conferences that seek to promote fire safety with national standards are important for many First Nations, a KFB captain said Tuesday.

“I do know we would have liked to be there but other issues came up,” said KFB Captain Wihse Stacey. “If you’re going to go sit at a national table and help to get people all on the same page as far as building codes, it’s a good opportunity.”

No kidding. In Canada, Indigenous people are 10 times more likely to die in a fire than non-Native people.

The three-day gathering was held in Ottawa last Wednesday to Friday, and brought together Indigenous fire protection and emergency responder leadership to explore how best to address increasing fire dangers faced by First Nations.

Stacey said many First Nations communities are still not as concerned with standardized building codes as they ought to be and that’s a major safety issue, he said.

“In a lot of First Nations communities, people are of the mindset that building codes are a `white man’s construct’ and don’t need to be adhered to and that’s unfortunate,” Stacey said. “The fact is, those safety codes are there for a reason and that’s to keep people as safe as possible. Regardless of how those codes came to be, it’s important that there be some sort of reform to get everyone on the same page.”

The event was organized by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and featured panel discussions on topics such as options for introducing fire protection legislation and codes, wildland fire threats and responses, funding needs to improve First Nation fire departments, effective fire prevention strategies and volunteer fire and wildfire fighting recruitment, amongst others.

AFN Manitoba Chief Cindy Woodhouse said fire safety remains a concern in many First Nations communities across the country.

“Every year, First Nations communities experience fires that could have been prevented or mitigated with adequate infrastructure, resources, and support,” she said. “Fire services in First Nations communities are frequently faced with insufficient resources and inadequate funding to meet the needs of our populations. In Canada, Indigenous people living in First Nation communities are 10 times more likely to die from a fire, according to 2021 vital statistics.

I look forward to the positive change this will bring as we work together with the government to protect First Nations.”

Federal Indigenous Services minister Patty Hajdu said fatal fires in First Nations communities are simply too frequent and hopes to reverse that trend.

“This year, as in years past, far too many First Nations have suffered devastating losses from tragic fatal fires that have left communities grieving and looking for answers,” she said. “These senseless tragedies could have been prevented. This gathering and the new Fire Protection Strategy, which has been co-developed with the Assembly of First Nations, are critical to saving lives and keeping First Nations communities safe. Today is an important first step, but we need to rapidly take further action. Lives depend on it.”

 Marc Lalonde/ Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/IORI:WASE/LJI  is a federally funded program. Turtle Island News does not receive lJI funding.

Add Your Voice

Is there more to this story? We'd like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Contribute your voice on our contribute page.