First Nations fire-fighting services limited by underfunding: Hughes

Ottawa – Many fire related deaths on First Nations are avoidable, but it will require the sort of attention the federal government refuses to pay to these communities, says Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP, Carol Hughes.


Hughes raised the issue in an adjournment debate Wednesday, highlighting circumstances that make fire safety a significant challenge for First Nations.


“Often the lives lost are those of young people who have been sacrificed due to the absence of a regulatory regime for fire services and inspections in First Nations which means there are no minimum requirements to be met,” said Hughes. “The problems with fire services are only compounded by the persistent - and one could argue permanent - lack of suitable housing available on First Nations.”


Inadequate federal funding for fire-fighting services, overcrowding, and a reliance on wood-stoves to heat make many dwellings place these communities more at risk for catastrophic fire events.  Hughes says the government knows all this and has chosen to maintain the status quo.


“Either they are satisfied with run-away statistics that make house fires on First Nations that much more deadly, or they are fooling themselves that the federal response to the problem is adequate,” said Hughes. “The fact is that fire deaths are ten times more likely to happen on First Nations than they are in other communities which indicates there is a real problem with the government’s approach.”


While many First Nations have some fire-fighting capacity, too often the equipment is old and the communities are reliant on other better-funded forces from nearby communities.  Hughes says the problem is the direct result of under-funding.


“Those that are lucky enough to have a fire crew are forced to respond with equipment that is old and outdated,” said Hughes.  “That is because the money the government does allocate for fighting fires on First Nations is a drop in the bucket when one considers how far 26.3 million dollars goes once it is divided by more than 600 communities.”


Hughes says the only solution will be to ensure that First Nations fire-fighting capacity is made a priority and that it includes a strong regulatory regime with proactive inspection measures.


“It is a matter of making the lives of people on First Nations a priority instead of an afterthought.”