For many years, remote and First Nations communities have experienced higher than average numbers of tragic fire fatalities; between 2008 and 2017, there were 56 deaths linked to 26 different fires in First Nations communities across Ontario. As reported by Ontario’s Chief Coroner’s Table in 2017, First Nations people living on reserves are ten times more likely to die in a house fire than Canadians living in other communities.
Having witnessed these tragic incidents, the team at Firefighters without Borders (FWB) identified a vital need to provide donated equipment and training in emergency response tactics and fire prevention for First Nations firefighters.
FWB is a volunteer organization that collects and ships donated fire, rescue, and safety equipment to fire services in need in Canada and around the world and ensures communities are equipped with the appropriate knowledge and skills to fight fire emergencies and save lives. In addition, FWB focuses on sustainability and strongly emphasizes fire prevention through fire safety education, smoke alarm donations and prevention training.
The Canadian-based charity partnered with Lac Seul Fire and Emergency Services and the Independent First Nation Alliance (IFNA) to purchase, with the help of a $30,000 grant from the Gay Lea Foundation, a 40-foot Dräger Maze Container (the Maze) explicitly designed for fire training. The Maze can safely let trainees gain real-time experience in Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) emergencies, search and rescue techniques, and hose movement for a fire attack (how firefighters assess and approach a working fire to manage the scene effectively).
The container will help establish the remote Northern Ontario First Nation Community of Lac Seul, located northwest of Thunder Bay near Sioux Lookout, as a Regional Firefighter Training Facility for the other First Nation communities within IFNA: Whitesand First Nation, Muskrat Dam First Nation, Pikangikum First Nation, and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation.
Earlier this year, the container was shipped and assembled on Lac Seul First Nation’s land. In October, following the assembly, FWB trainers travelled there to deliver a comprehensive training program for firefighters, including instructions on proper use of the donated protective equipment.
Over five days, participants were introduced to and familiarized with SCBAs. In addition, they learned proper rescue drag and carries, fire hose movement, methods of fire attack, ground ladder operations and firefighter survival. The participants then were able to practice these techniques in the Maze.
“The survival Maze was the most popular component of the program as it is visually appealing to look at, and the participants enjoyed watching their colleagues attempt it,” says Craig Dockeray, FWB Vice President. “The participants experienced increased confidence and accomplishment once they had completed the Maze and enjoyed the feeling of success.”
Overall, the participants were excited and enjoyed the training program,” adds Dockeray. “All participants were interested in continuing with future training and enhancing their fire ground skills. A future program that builds off the skills delivered in this program will develop more comfort and confidence in their abilities.”
By using the train-the-trainer model, participants are equipped to train their colleagues and future firefighter recruits. In a previous phase of the project, the firefighters were instructed on how to deliver a home and school fire prevention education program to their community members, furthering the awareness of fire prevention and helping protect their communities.
“First responders in these communities do not receive monetary compensation for their efforts participating in training or responding to emergencies,” says Dockeray. “On behalf of the Lac Seul First Nation and FWB, I would like to thank the Gay Lea Foundation for supporting this important project. By providing a safe training environment, the confidence and skills of the participating firefighters increased, and we hope it will reduce the incidence and impact of fires among all IFNA First Nations communities.”
FWB will continue to partner with the IFNA Fire and Emergency Services to help deliver training and protective equipment throughout their communities in the future as needed. This way, the Lac Seul First Nation training facility will remain a viable and sustainable resource for the region.