By Sharon Weatherall
BEAUSOLEIL FIRST NATION – In Canada, statistics prove that fire deaths in First Nations communities are 10-12 per cent of the national average.
Beausoleil First Nation Fire Chief Allan Manitowabi says Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) are currently working on a program to supply First Nations with smoke alarms.
“It’s now at the committee stage to develop how this service will be delivered to communities,” said Manitowabi.
“I think it is a great idea and needs to be done but Beausoleil First Nation
(BFN) is well ahead of the game when it comes to ensuring that all community homes have working smoke alarms and plans to stay that way.”
In 2006 BFN was one of nine First Nations in Ontario Region and five First Nations in Alberta, to jump aboard a pilot project that took place in Canada called “The First Nations Remembering When”. The Native adaptation was the result of the “Remembering When” program already developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The pilot project also included six large First Nations in the United States so across the board over 5000 alarms were installed especially in vulnerable areas where elders and families were at high risk.
“Just over $300,000 was used in the pilot project in Canadian First Nations communities which saw over 2000 smoke alarms installed including the distribution of flashlights, night lights to each and every home,” said Fire Chief Allan Manitowabi.
“What we did in Ontario was expand upon the program actually starting in the summer of 2006 after completing all the certification and training. As the coordinator and working with my colleagues, we quickly recognized the potential and family dynamics of our communities and included a smoke alarm program. This was based on recent deaths within a number of First Nations communities in the Ontario region, at the time. It was a real team effort by the NFPA, the OFM (Office of the Fire Marshall) who delivered the training on smoke alarms and the Ontario Native Fire Fighters Society (ONFFS) – First Nations Fire Chiefs participants.”
Manitowabi says in the last ten years since 2005, there were 48 fire deaths in First Nations Ontario Region with two more added to that total already this year.
“First Nations Fire Chiefs recognized this and for years have been requesting additional funding to develop programs to work with our counterparts and bring in the experts but obstacles have prevented this from happening. Without any additional financial support First Nations have had to fend for themselves,” says Manitowabi.
“Over the last six years, Fire Chiefs and Fire Prevention Officers asked for funding for a program to put into First Nations communities but the funding did not come forth. Since then 25 fire deaths have occurred in First Nations communities. That is why it is important that Indian Affairs needs to deal directly with First Nations Fire Services, those with experience and expertise to create successful prevention and educational programs.”
Manitowabi says you don’t have to be a scientist to install a battery operated smoke alarm – the directions are clear, but location does matter and where to install a smoke alarm so it is most effective. A smoke alarm should not be installed too near a stove where cooking smoke could cause it to go off all the time. Because of this happening people have been known to disable units out of frustration and often not hook them back up.
Since the pilot project in 2006, Beausoleil Fire & Rescue Services has continued to ensure BFN community has operating units in homes. Both electrical and battery models are used. The fire department works together with BFN Housing which now installs combination smoke alarm/CO units into all new homes being built. In addition, BFN has also expanded its fire protection with its first fully sprinkler multi-family (6-Plex) unit in the community.
Manitowabi says smoke alarm installation goes hand in hand with education.
“Smoke alarm education is key – I get a call at least once a week with someone asking questions,” said Manitowabi.
“At the time of the pilot program BFN had over 300 ‘First Alert’ smoke alarms installed in community homes – some homes requiring two or more.
Since then we are slowly coming up-to-date with changing existing smoke alarms in homes to the new style combination “Kidde” model smoke alarm/CO detectors. We constantly keep a supply in the office to meet the needs of the community.”
Elder Velma Smith of Christian Island has a smoke alarm in her home and says they are a “good idea” to alert people of potential fire.
“One time my alarm was going off and some people walking by stopped in to ask if I was okay – they heard it from the road,” laughed Smith.