Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Community Fire Preparedness

In most communities, irrespective of their relative wealth there is an awareness of the destructive potential, particularly during the winter months, of fire consuming homes and other structures and presenting as a danger to residents. In most communities a robust and dedicated and often self-trained group of volunteers steps forward to offer themselves as resourceful fire-fighters, and the community depends upon them, trusting them.

In the Pelican Narrows reserve in Saskatchewan, a ten-year-old girl was saved and will live to see another day, rescued from the fire that enveloped her home and as it did, took the lives of her two brothers, nine and ten. Josiah and Solomon Ballantyne have seen all the winters they ever will. The man who rescued the young girl, Larry Custer, said in a radio interview that no volunteer firefighters arrived to aid him in rescuing Hope Ballantyne from the inferno her home had become.

So he did what he could, saving the life of one child and now he will be forever haunted by the thought of the two children whom his efforts were unable to be directed toward since fires burn quickly and one person can only do so much. No one, Larry Custer emphasized, responded to the blaze that destroyed the house on the reserve in Pelican Narrows, Saskatchewan.

Yes, there is a fire truck, but, he said, no one has signed on to volunteer.

That is because, he explained further, that many of those living on the reserve cannot identify any benefit to themselves. Risking their lives to fight fires, when they're not being compensated by a salary or some measure of monetary remuneration. Evidently caring enough about the people with whom you share a heritage, a culture, a way of life, and concern for the well-being of the young is not incentive enough.

First Nations reserves in Canada are notorious for their high rate of unemployment. And their equally high rate of addictions to both alcohol and drugs. Deaths, particularly among the young, due to suicide, far exceed the national average and on some reserves are considered a dire epidemic. These three children hadn't been the victims of the deep malaise leading them to leave life voluntarily, they became victims of a natural disaster, with but one surviving.
“The pump was working. It’s just that the fire truck wouldn’t start and if the fire truck doesn’t start, you have nothing.
“In these small communities, they don’t have a whole lot of money and they don’t have a backup unit … It’s not [that] the firefighters didn’t show up. It’s that they couldn’t get the fire truck going and they couldn’t get it to the fire.”
Richard Kent, commissioner of emergency and protective services, Prince Albert Grand Council

Mr. Kent allowed as how yes, it is up to the community to ensure their equipment is in working order. However -- he said, in an all-too-familiar chorus of responsibility-shirking -- regular maintenance is dependent on funding from the federal government. Besides which many volunteer firefighters work outside the community "so they cannot check on equipment every day". First Nations fire departments are not viable for lack of funding.

An obvious invitation to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt's office to weigh in with their explanation that the Prince Albert Grand Council is given $120,000 annually for fire protection training for its member reserves, including Pelican Narrows. Another $200,000 is provided annually for the training of on-reserve volunteer firefighters.

In addition to which, in the case of Pelican Narrows, the federal government provided direct funding for "fire protection capital". In the past we've also read of reserves refusing government-proffered new fire engines as unneeded, and they certainly would not be if there is no one available to make use of them.

Of a total of 1,342 residents on the reserve, none available for volunteerism.

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