Leadership of Onigaming First Nation is calling on the provincial and federal governments to support a new firefighting service for the community.
Chief Jeffrey Copenace says Onigaming has been approved to purchase a new fire truck and they’re working with Indigenous Services Canada on plans for a building to store that truck – but more still needs to be done.
“We’re just in the process of starting to get that, but we barely have any infrastructure,” he explains.
“Our medical building burnt down two years ago. It’s still not rebuilt. We just had a major flood at our daycare. It’s closed. We had a major flood at our band office, it was shut down for part of December.”
“Our funerals are happening at our school, traumatizing our children, because we have nowhere else to go. Medical staff are doing blood work in our band office, because we have no proper place to do it.”
Chief Copenace estimates Onigaming has close to 500 on-reserve community members living in about 130 houses, and roughly 25 per cent of those homes are considered condemned – but residents have nowhere else to go and are continually fighting against high rates of poverty in the area.
“I think Canada and the feds are starting to understand…but in terms of fire safety, I’m terrified. It’s crazy that in 2023, we’re just catching up with the rest of the country in this regard.”
Chief Copenace notes he’s hopeful to see the service up and running in the next year or two, and thankfully, they won’t be the only community receiving a new fire truck.
Fort Garry Fire Trucks out of Winnipeg, MB is providing newly built pumper trucks to Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation’s Volunteer Fire Department near Fort Frances and staff are in the process of building a pumper truck for Weenusk First Nation.
A 10-year-old passed away in Weensuk in late January after a major house fire – as the community doesn’t have access to any adequate firefighting services or equipment. Ontario’s Fire Marshall continues to investigate the cause of the fire.
Indigenous Services Canada paid for a new fire truck for the community in 2022, at a cost of just over $500,000. Now, staff are just waiting for a winter road to be built so the truck can be delivered safely.
Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation received a donation of a 1996 fire truck from the City of Hamilton’s Fire Department in 2018 – which replaced a nearly 40-year-old truck at the time. Their new truck is expected to take that truck’s place or supplement the force with a second pumper.
Elsewhere, ISC continues to work with Pikangikum to build a fire hall to store their service’s fire trucks and equipment. A fire in February turned into tragedy when fire trucks left out in the cold were unable to respond to the fire, which killed three.