Progressing from Tragedy
Independent First Nations Alliance - Special to The Bulletin
The recent tragic house fires and loss of life in the First Nation community of Pikangikum has put yet another spotlight on the need for proper emergency medical and fire response in remote communities. “As the community works toward healing, we at the Independent First Nations Alliance (IFNA), Pikangikum’s Tribal Council, have stepped up while the system catches up.” said Mathew Hoppe, IFNA CEO.
From a community response perspective, IFNA has developed a training program within their communities to establish Emergency Medical Responders (EMR) from within each community. This has resulted in the first graduating class of EMRs being honoured in Pikangikum on March 31, 2023. Nick Rhone, Fire Chief, IFNA Regional Fire Rescue and IFNA Integrated Emergency Services Director stated that, “While there are many groups, including IFNA, trying to bring proper Emergency Services, such as Paramedic and Fire service to the North, we have been trying our best to make communities safer as directed by IFNA’s Chiefs.”
As well, IFNA is working with Pikangikum to help rebuild the lives of these families.
Mental health supports have been provided to the community; support and donations for immediate relief to the families affected are occurring; and the process for repairing or replacing the homes affected is underway.
Through a partnership with Indigenous Services Canada, IFNA has also been able to start the process of sourcing, purchasing, and installing smoke alarms across all IFNA communities. Additionally, Pikangikum received a donation from the Office of the Fire Marshal of 500 smoke/carbon monoxide alarms and 500 fire extinguishers. “We recently worked with the IFNA team in Pikangikum following the tragic house fire where three community members were lost.” said Fire Marshal Jon Pegg. “These tragedies can be prevented and my office is committed to working with Pikangikum, IFNA Regional Fire Rescue and all First Nations in supporting efforts to make communities fire safe.”
Above all, talks are now moving forward to finally address the lack of emergency response services in all IFNA communities and especially in Pikangikum. Here, talks have resumed regarding the funding for a proper fire station and equipment to service the remote community of almost 4000 people.
Chief Shirley Keeper said “these discussions have been ongoing for over 12 years, since the last tragic house fire in which our community lost nine lives. Bureaucracy and jurisdiction challenges, as well as a lack of community resources, has delayed these efforts. Fire Services are a critical issue across many First Nation communities. We put our faith in those who are helping us recover from this tragedy and pray the result of a safer community will honour the memories of those we’ve lost.”
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