Another house fire death in First Nation challenges underfunding and lack of proper infrastructure


First Nations fires show need for more resources: fire chief

Posted: Apr 04, 2014

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In the wake of fatal fires in two northwestern First Nations resulting in five deaths, a First Nation fire chief says he is upset that it is taking so long to fill the need for more resources and training.

Allan Manitowabi, a fire chief at Beausoleil First Nation on Georgian Bay with 30 years firefighting experience, says the recent loss of life at Fort Severn and Mishkeegogaming First Nations saddens and angers him.

"If we're still talking about training and we're still talking about education and we're talking about firefighting and that's been going on for 20 years then something is wrong," Manitowabi said.

Manitowabi says fire safety education and proper training for community members to fight fires is essential to preventing more deaths.

He adds that another priority is making sure fire trucks and equipment are tailored to meet the needs of each First Nation community, which he says is something that unfortunately doesn't happen when the government buys and distributes in bulk.

Beausoleil First Nation used its own money to update the truck it received.

He says his community has also installed smoke detectors in homes and has trained a volunteer firefighting crew.

Manitowabi feels more resources are needed for other First Nations to do the same.    

"True sadness ... is the first thing. And then at the same time I think there's a bit of anger there, because I believe that there still is a lot of work and things that need to be done in order to address these issues."

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation - which provides support to First Nations fire departments - extended condolences to the bereaved family in Fort Severn.

The email also referred to reports that a frozen fire hydrant in Fort Severn had kept volunteers from extinguishing the fire.

"The frozen hydrant highlights an infrastructure issue with which First Nations in Ontario deal with. That issue is that water distribution systems and water plants are inadequate to handle the needs of fire protection services in communities that continue to grow."