Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation fatal fire    Why should children have to burn to death because of bureaucratic mismanagement?  The CBC sets the scene.

“An early-morning fire on a First Nation west of Meadow Lake, Sask., has claimed the lives of two toddlers — prompting criticism about the lack of firefighting services on reserves.  RCMP said officers were dispatched around 1:30 a.m. CST Tuesday to the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, where they found a home engulfed in flames.  They said a man, who had gone to the home and found it was on fire, came out carrying two small children.  According to RCMP, the man was the father of the two-year-old boy and one-year-old girl. Both children died at the scene.”

Unpaid bills apparently are the reason why children must die.

“Chief Richard Ben of Makwa Sahgaiehacan said the community, which is 60 kilometres west of Meadow Lake, usually depends on volunteer firefighters from Loon Lake, but they didn’t respond.

Volunteer fire chief Larry Heon in Loon Lake, near the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, says he got an automated call about the fire Tuesday morning, his crew didn’t go to the scene. The reserve sent a letter cancelling its contract last year with the village for fire services, Heon said.”

Let this be a lesson to those who clamour for more privatization of public services – it comes down to the simple reality witnessed here.   The present situation is more complex as we are discussing a different jurisdiction – a First Nations Reserve – the question of funding, and the allocation of resources comes into play.

“Makwa Sahgaiehcan, like other First Nations across [Saskatchewan], does not receive sufficient funding to cover even two fire calls per year from the municipal volunteer fire department,” the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations said in a statement released Thursday.  Unless there is a significant increase in funding, there is no way First Nations can meet any kind of fire safety codes and regulations,” said FSIN vice-chief Dutch Lerat”

It would seem that the murky mess that is the First Nations/Canadian government relationship is also at fault in this situation.

“Funding levels are determined by a regionally based formula, according to Aboriginal Affairs, which factors in the number of buildings on reserve, remoteness, population and local environment. Local band councils manage fire protection services on reserve and prioritize spending according to their needs. Communities can divert funding meant for fire services to other areas that are more urgent.”

Mmm…  Is it just me or does being able to reallocate funds meant for fire protection seem like a bad idea?  Surface evaluation though let’s look a little deeper at the situation and how one First Nations representative sees it:

“He said, for example, that often there is not enough fuel on reserves to heat the fire halls, so fire trucks are in the cold in the wintertime and unable to respond to calls fast enough. There also might not be adequate water infrastructure with the proper pressure to combat fires.   Another challenge is the regulatory gap where no inspections or building codes are mandated, said Blaine Wiggins of the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada, which receives about $200,000 from Aboriginal Affairs to co-ordinate prevention initiatives.

Without enforceable requirements or national standards, he said, safety issues don’t get fixed.

Fire services are not just about suppressing fires, he said in an interview with CBC News, but also about building codes, as well as home safety, prevention programs and general awareness.

“What’s needed is the entire gamut of fire services,” Wiggins said, in order to get First Nation reserves to be comparable to off-reserve communities.”

The problem, unsurprisingly, seem to be systemic in nature requiring that basic improvements to infrastructure and building codes be in place before meaningful changes can happen.

These are ‘chicken and egg’ type problems. It is sadly symbolic of the so many of the problems and difficulties First Nations communities face.  It illustrates the government of Canada’s lack of planning and foresight when it comes to First Nations communities.

The problems of this particular incident are many fold, but we should start with those responsible for the safety of their community – Chief Richard Ben claimed that he “didn’t remember signing that [fire] contract” and that he “didn’t know”.  That dear friends is horseshit weaseling at its finest.  If the buck doesn’t stop with the leader of one’s community where does it stop?

The second issue is funding from the Canadian government.  The process of distributing funds for fire protection on Reserves seems designed to fail, right from square one.

So, individual and bureaucratic failure unnecessarily costs people their lives.  Oh Canada :(  Let’s get in there and make sure that all of our citizens have access to basic public services.

[ source 1, 2, 3]