First Nation Housing
AFAC PUSH FOR CREATION OF INDEPENDENT INDIGENOUS FIRE MARSHALL OFFICE TO RESOLVE ABSENCE OF NATIONAL STANDARDS
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By Cori Marshall
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) held a Special Chiefs Assembly December 6 through 7 in Ottawa. Twenty-eight draft resolutions were moved at the assembly. Among the motions put forward was Draft Resolution 16, Support for the Creation of the Indigenous Fire Marshal Office.
The resolution would direct the "AFN to support [Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada] AFAC in the creation and implementation" of the office, as well as the independence of the office of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), and be operational as soon as possible.
AFAC would be responsible for establishing the Fire Marshal's Office and are advocating for its creation. For more information on the resolution and the planned office, we spoke with Arnold Lazare, AFAC President and Collaboration Director.
The current fire safety situation in First Nations communities "depends on the community," Lazare said, "they either have a fire department or mutual aid agreement," both funded by INAC. Lazare cautioned that "in some communities, there is no fire protection at all."
"Deaths that occur due to fire on reserve are ten times higher than the national average."
AFAC was officially recognized in the early 1990s, and since its inception, Lazare said they "have been advocating for better fire protection programs."
Arnold Lazare AFAC President
The creation of the office is necessary when you realize that "since 2010 record for loss and death due to fire has not been kept," Lazare informed Water Today. Lazare asserted that after the creation of the office "we will be establishing a data collection process."
He added that they would be "embarking on a national fire prevention campaign in every [First Nations] community."
AFAC will "identify a champion in every community, and getting them the appropriate training, providing the appropriate resources so that every native child on reserve has been exposed to some fire prevention," Lazare explained.
Driving home the point of the importance of fire prevention Lazare said that "statistics show that if a home doesn't have a working smoke or carbon monoxide detector, chances of injury and death in a fire are increased exponentially."
Lazare explained that "there is no legislation in First Nations communities that apply, provincial Fire Marshals have no authority, what [the new office] will do is build capacity in the community."
There will be the creation of National Standards, "every community must have a fire prevention program, and we will help them develop it," Lazare said.
INAC would play a financial role in creating the new office. Lazare explained INAC "announced that it would like to see the [office] implemented and have allocated money to set it up." According to the INAC website, the department allocates over $250 thousand to AFAC annually.
The stream of financing has not always been steady, INAC funded AFAC on a "year to year" basis which made operations difficult. Lazare informed us that INAC "has acknowledged this and is looking at multiple year funding."
Funding is fundamental to First Nations fire prevention, "in order to get the appropriate staff there needs to be some guarantees," Lazare said, "up until now it has been done mostly with volunteer labour."
When asked about whether existing fire services would be absorbed by the new office Lazare replied "no, where the communities have the capacity [the] mandate would be to assist them." What this means is, for example, if a community is lacking important equipment the new office would aid in purchasing it.
The creation of the office is a proactive measure in ensuring adequate fire safety within First Nations communities. Not only is it positive, it is also necessary looking at the fact that the federal institutions tasked with overseeing fire safety had not collected First Nations fire data in the better part of a decade. Establishing this office through developing national standards will work toward creating safer communities and ultimately save live.
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