A big step has been taken to revive the fire department on the Hay River Reserve.
On Sept. 21, an open house was held at the fire hall to introduce people to the latest and probably the most important addition to the K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) Fire Department – a functioning fire truck.
KFN Fire Chief Doug Lamalice said the used vehicle, which is about 20 years old, was purchased in Saskatchewan.
Lamalice said the department’s old truck was damaged and broken down.
“So we had to get it replaced,” he said.
Lamalice is very pleased with the newly-arrived truck, noting it’s like brand-new.
The purchase was funded by K’atlodeeche First Nation.
Peter Groenen, the CEO of K’atlodeeche First Nation, said the band backs the fire department.
“The idea of having a firefighting service on the reserve is really a community advantage,” he said.
“It’s a dangerous situation when they have to come all the way from Hay River. It’s a long way around.”
Groenen said KFN spent about $135,000 to obtain the fire truck and various pieces of equipment that went with it.
Lamalice explained the truck will be an important piece in the revival of the fire department, which was formed about 20 years ago but has basically been inactive for about 10 years.
In particular, it will be important in training which is about to begin.
“So it’s time when we can expand and upgrade ourselves,” said Lamalice. “We’re just going to go for defensive level training at first.”
A defensive level basically means firefighters will be trained to combat a fire from the outside of a building. More extensive training is required for firefighters to enter a structure.
“Everyone figures you’ve got a fire truck, you’ve got water, go put those fires out,” said Lamalice. “It’s not like that anymore. It’s all ruled up.”
For example, he noted the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission can shut down a fire department if firefighters use a fire truck without the proper training.
“There are so many stipulations, but it protects the people and the community at the end of the day,” said Lamalice. “So we’re going through extensive training. We’re starting our training very soon.”
The training will start with First Aid and CPR, and move on from there.
“When we are trained and trained on the fire truck and every other thing, that’s only when we’ll be doing any firefighting,” said Lamalice.
The training will be undertaken with the help of the Office of the NWT Fire Marshal and the Hay River Fire Department.
Lamalice said it will take time to arrange and complete the training.
“It’s going to be a good six to nine months before anybody gets in that truck to go put out any fires,” he said.
Fire protection on the Hay River Reserve is now provided by the Hay River Fire Department.
However, Lamalice said it would be important for the reserve to have its own functioning fire truck and fire department.
“To me, it means a lot because it’s a long drive all the way around,” he said of the distance from Hay River.
“And the initial attack is always the one that creates the outcome of the fire. So if you get it while it’s small, then chances are there’s not going to be any damage. So to me the quicker you get on them, the more safe your community should feel. Your community shouldn’t have to feel that they have to wait for a truck for 20 minutes before someone starts putting water on the building.”
In the winter, fire trucks from Hay River can get to the reserve much quicker on the ice crossing on the river.
Lamalice said an initiative to revive the KFN Fire Department has been underway for about a year and he has been fire chief for about that same time.
So far, 15 volunteers have joined the department, include three women.
“We’re getting our department together and they’re starting to show up regularly for meetings,” said Lamalice.
The fire chief said the Sept. 21 open house to introduce the fire truck to the community was an awesome event.
It was also a chance to explain where the KFN Fire Department is heading.