NAN, COO Identify Priorities as Report Links Systemic Issues to Fire Deaths in First Nations

THUNDER BAY, ON: Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare have identified key priorities for major improvements to fire safety and prevention following the release of a report by the Chief Coroner of Ontario highlighting how poor housing conditions and a critical lack of fire prevention services are having devastating effects in First Nations communities.

“This report by the Chief Coroner confirms what our leaders have been saying for years. Far too many innocent lives have been lost in tragic house fires that may have been prevented if basic safety measures were in place, and if homes were constructed to provincial standards,” said NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “Everyone should be able to go to bed and expect to see their families in the morning, and it is unacceptable that our children are at such high risk. We have identified priorities and will look to our provincial and federal Treaty partners to support the work that must be done to improve fire safety and prevention.”

The Ontario Chief Coroner’s Table on Understanding Fire Deaths in First Nations examined fire related deaths in 20 communities (including seven NAN First Nations) over the last 10 years. Among its findings:

  • First Nations children under 10 had the highest fire-related mortality rate (86 times greater than non-First Nation children in Ontario).
  • Communities with no year-round road access had the highest number of fatal fires and fire fatalities.
  • 86% of fatal fires in First Nations communities had either no or non-operational smoke alarms in the house/structure.
  • Fatal fires where the primary source of heating was wood stove/wood heater were highest in communities with no year-round road access.

“This report does not come as a surprise. It has highlighted the critical need for First Nations to have access to adequate housing, fire safety education, and fire protection services and equipment in order to keep community members safe,” said Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare. “First Nations leadership has worked tirelessly for the protection of their communities, and we must address systemic issues that contribute to the ongoing fire-related deaths, including inadequate housing and infrastructure and outdated fire safety and suppression equipment. These fatal fires can be prevented, and it is not the only reason why First Nations are in need of improvements in housing, infrastructure and water.”

“If we can build a pipeline to carry oil from Alberta to Ontario, we must prioritize building waterlines into our First Nations communities. I encourage our provincial and federal partners to work collaboratively alongside First Nations leadership towards identifying solutions and improving community safety and well-being,” said Regional Chief Hare.

The Chiefs Coroner’s Table was formed in 2017. NAN Chiefs, along with advocacy groups, called for an investigation into fire safety in First Nations communities, following a series of tragic house fires. In addition to the Table, a Working Group of technical experts and an Advisory Group made up of Elders and Knowledge Keepers were formed.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Chiefs of Ontario have identified the following priorities for major improvements to fire safety and prevention:

  • Increase fire safety awareness and education through Amber’s Fire Safety Campaign.
  • Implement a standardized service delivery model across NAN territory.
  • Ensure community infrastructure and housing conditions are acceptable and built to code.

Fatal house fires are all too common in many First Nations due to overcrowding, poor housing conditions and a critical lack of fire safety and prevention services.

Since 2016, NAN has worked with Tribal Councils, the federal and provincial governments, municipal fire departments and other agencies to coordinate efforts to improve fire safety and prevention through Amber’s Fire Safety Campaign. The Campaign is named in memory Amber Strang, an infant just five months old, the youngest victim of the March 29, 2016, house fire in Pikangikum First Nation that claimed nine lives, including three generations of her family.

The report is available at: https://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/Deathinvestigations/OfficeChiefCoroner/Publicationsandreports/UnderstandingFireDeathsFirstNations.html

For more information please contact:
Michael Heintzman,
Director of Communications
Cell: (807) 621-2790
mheintzman@nan.ca