SIX NATIONS – The message was crisp and clear: Six Nations Fire Fighters, and volunteers are maxed out, over worked, underpaid, and under appreciated by Ottawa.
That is what The Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi heard about when he visited Six Nations Monday to offer an ear to Fire Chief Matthew Miller’s list of barriers to proper emergency services at Canada’s most populous reserve.
Although Miller commended his firefighters for the selfless work they do on behalf of the community, he also made Minister Naqvi well aware that that doesn’t mean things are under control.
Naqvi was invited by Elected Chief Ava Hill to see the state of the Six Nations Fire Services for himself and help apply provincial pressure to the Harper government to provide adequate funding for a community the size of Six Nations.
People who live on a First Nation in Canada are 10-times more likely to die in a house fire than any other community within this country, according to a government report.
An already stretched fire department has been even more burdened as of late by a series of arsons now numbering nine over the past few weeks.
“Many times, when this type of call happens is empties all of our available services and equipment. A catastrophe is just a matter of time,” Miller warned. “It’s not a question of if it’s going to happen.”
Miller thanked the Minister for provincial assistance through the Ontario Fire Marshall’s office, which has been on Territory several times recently concerning the rash of arsons. Many times it is uncertain if anyone is in the structure and so it’s not just a matter of putting a fire out.
Search teams have to enter the burning structure to ensure it is empty and preserve as best as they can any evidence related to the fire. All this is dangerous to the firefighters as well as time consuming. At a recent fire on Highway #54, several Six Nations firefighters were treated on the scene for heat and fatigue related treatment. That also ties up emergency services and paramedics.
“Since I took office three months ago, we’ve had to deal with a large chemical fire, as well as five structure fires in this community,” Chief Miller told the Minister. “As a result of the chemical fire at the recycling facility, we did declare an emergency within the community. Presently we receive no funding for community emergency management. That is another big issue on the table.”
Minister Naqvi was sympathetic to the lack of proper equipment and services Six Nations Fire Chief Matt Miller and the full time and volunteers have to deal with on a daily basis.
He agreed that the situation is not a good one and promised to take his findings back to Queens Park and talk about how to best lobby Ottawa for more funding and support than they are presently receiving from the federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister.
Recently, it became public that federal Aboriginal Affairs Department has withheld more than $1 billion from its budget, which was to be earmarked for First Nations.
Meanwhile, Six Nations and other First Nations communities are put in a very dangerous situations with no adequate fire or emergency services budgets in place and over extended volunteers fire fighters.
Startling facts from a 2008 study were presented to underscore the disproportionate funding model being employed by the federal government related to emergency services.
Using Elliott Lake and North Wellington as a baseline as the two communities have populations similar to Six Nations, it shows an annual call volume of 187 for Wellington North, 350 for Elliott Lake and 700 for Six Nations. Meanwhile, the budget per Capita ranges from $72 in Wellington North, $74.81 for Elliott Lake and just $25 for Six Nations.
“It is disturbing for me to hear about the inadequacy of services here,” said the Minister.
But he said the province could do very little about it other than pressure the federal AANAC to free up the funding required for a reserve of this size.
First Nations communities like Six Nations are the exclusive responsibility of the Government of Canada, but there is no legislative framework to mandate fire prevention and protection standards in First Nations communities, according to a media release by Six Nations Fire Services.
The frightening facts presented underscore the immediate needs to bring Six Nations on par with non-Native communities.
“We are very capable of managing our fire service, but what we cannot do is provide adequate fire protection services to the Six Nations community when we are not receiving funding comparable to our neighbouring municipal fire services,” says Fire Chief Miller. “The Six Nations Fire Service is faced on a regular basis with many unique challenges but with the support of the Six Nations Elected Council we have done our best to face those challenges.”
Elected Chief Hill says she is hopeful that Minister Naqvi’s visit will help free up a more realistic funding formula that doesn’t punish larger reserves like Six Nations.
“I am always looking for resolutions,” said Hill. “You gotta have hope and not give up, and I am glad the Minister has come here and has had a chance to see first hand what obstacles Six Nations Fire Services have to deal with.”