Eleven men and women have started basic firefighter training on the K'atlo'deeche First Nation.
The training allows the new KFN recruits to secure a scene, set up hoses and climb ladders, douse flames — all from outside a building.
KFN fire chief Doug Lamalice says the community has wanted a fire department for years.
"We will be the first responders a couple months down the road. But that will just be for the outside of the building, so we will still be using Hay River and they will still be coming to do the initial attack, the in-house if it is that big," he said.
The training, new fire truck and equipment is being funded by $150,000 from Municipal and Community Affairs, which is being administered by the band.
"We've started with the basics even though a lot of [the volunteers] are already wildland firefighters with forestry,' he says.
Next step: 'offensive training'
Over the next five to seven years, training will increase to the point that KFN firefighters are "offensively trained," meaning they can enter burning buildings without waiting for back-up.
In the meantime, the reserve relies on Hay River firefighters — which can create delays, especially in the summer when it takes 20 to 25 minutes to reach the reserve.
The ice road in the winter shortens the response time down to seven minutes.
Even so, a 27-year-old man died in a house fire on the reserve in February 2017.
Two years earlier, fire destroyed an autobody shop. No one was injured.
Upping the response time
The two fire departments continue to work collaboratively, whether it's for training or responding to emergencies.
Lamalice says he takes pride in knowing his on-reserve firefighters have already created a greater sense of safety.
"I am doing my part as a Dene person to put things in place before I get too old," the 55-year-old said.
"The community is very happy to finally see things happening. And it's creating a sense of comfort."
Hay River fire chief Ross Potter is assisting with the training.
"It is going to improve response time considerably. With them being able to start defensive fire fighting on the building, it is certainly going to have it in a lot better shape by the time we get there."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the training, new fire truck and equipment is being funded by $500,000 from Municipal and Community Affairs. In fact, the amount is $150,000.Dec 13, 2017 4:58 PM CT