Watch above: In the wake of the tragic double fatal fire on a Saskatchewan First Nation this week, questions are being asked about the quality of volunteer firefighting right down to the equipment. Wendy Winiewski talks to a volunteer in a similar-sized community about the costs associated with firefighting operations.
SASKATOON – The deaths of two toddlers on the Makwa Saghaeihcan First Nation have sparked discussion across the country about funding, and about the role of volunteer fire departments. A new development Friday – the reserve and the Loon Lake Fire Department are in communication.
As the sides try to move forward, Global News looks at what it takes to run a volunteer fire department in Saskatchewan.
Jamie Brandrick has been a volunteer with Borden Fire Department for eight years.
“It takes dedication, it takes people. We have 15 people dedicated on our fire department,” said Brandrick.
Thoughts of Tuesday’s fatal house fire are fresh in Brandrick’s mind.
“Hopefully everybody can learn from this tragedy.”
The bodies of 18-month-old Hayley Cheenanow and her two-year-old brother, Harley, were carried by their father out of their burning home on the Makwa Saghaeihcan First Nation earlier this week.
The nearby Loon Lake Volunteer Fire Department didn’t respond. Documentation shows the reserve was behind on its bills and the chief of the First Nation signed off to cancel the retainer agreement in 2012.
The two sides are making amends.
“The band actually came in yesterday and paid the $3,000 bill,” said Larry Heon, chief of Loon Lake Fire Department.
“We’re back on temporary operating terms until after the mourning period so we can sit down with negotiations and get the retainers and stuff put back in place.”
The Makwa Saghaeihcan First Nation received $34,000 in funding for this fiscal year. According to their chief, it was spent on smoke detectors. The reserve also has a fire truck but it hasn’t been maintained.
In Borden, it’s no easy task maintaining a volunteer fire department. The fire department doesn’t receive any provincial or federal funding. The total annual budget in the 2014-15 fiscal year is $12,000 contributed evenly by the R.M. of Great Bend and the Village of Borden.
In recent years, they’ve managed to purchase six new breathing apparatuses for $24,000, used “jaws of life” for $10,000 and spent $16,500 at an auction on an old fire truck from the City of Saskatoon’s fleet.
“It takes a lot of money and we have to do it all on our own,” said Brandrick.
The department does lots of fundraising, from snowmobile rallies in winter to community barbecues summer. They also volunteer their time twice-a-month for meetings, once-a-month for training and any time they’re called out, day or night, something Brandrick says is well worth the effort, to save a human life.
Since it isn’t a full-time paid job, response times are longer with volunteer fire departments.
The Loon Lake fire chief says he’s doubtful a response from his crew would have changed the outcome of Tuesday’s deadly fire.
“I think the biggest problem is we have a politician that stands up in the house like she did yesterday and says give them more money, that’s fine give them all the money in the world but if it doesn’t go to the right places what good is it,” said Heon.