Nfld. & Labrador

His home went up in flames. And the nearest fire department didn't respond

A Boxing Day fire that razed a house in a small settlement on Newfoundland's west coast was a stark lesson on the lack of fire services in the community.

Boxing Day fire highlights lack of coverage in small settlement after services cancelled by neighbouring town

This was all that was left of Tyler Bennett's home on the morning of Dec. 27. (Tyler Bennett/Facebook)

A Boxing Day fire that razed a house in Mattis Point, N.L., has starkly underlined a lack of fire services in the community on Newfoundland's west coast.

About an hour before midnight on Dec. 26, the fire took everything that Tyler Bennett, of Mattis Point, owned.

"My mother called me at eleven o'clock at night, told me the cabin's all up in flames," said Bennett, who had been living there for four years. He was with family in Cow Head at the time of the fire.

"And it just blew my mind, like, the only thing I got now is maybe two pairs of pants and two pullovers and a pack of socks that I got for Christmas." 

Bennett says the fire department in the nearby town of Stephenville Crossing was called but didn't respond. He and other Mattis Point residents were shocked to learn that the neighbouring fire department didn't respond because coverage to their community was cancelled by the Town of Stephenville Crossing in November 2018.

Bennett had lived in the home for four years. (Submitted by Todd J. Young)

"I didn't know that would work that way," Bennett said. "I thought, like, if it's an emergency you had to go." 

Stephenville Crossing ended its fire coverage of Mattis Point because that department could no longer attend emergencies in areas where they weren't personally protected under insurance and compensation in the event they were injured.

Lisa Lucas, mayor of Stephenville Crossing, said the decision to cancel services was not made the night of the fire but after years of struggle trying to get payments from Mattis Point.

The problem dated back at least the 20 years she has been on council, she said, which eventually decided their residents should not be expected to cover the burden for another community.

Cynthia Bennett, chair of the Mattis Point local service district, said she understands Lucas's point, given the district's own struggles to get payments from residents of the community, with only half of the 56 homes in Mattis Point paying for services.

Cynthia Bennett is the chair of the Mattis Point local service district. (Cynthia Bennett/Facebook)

Bennett said the fee for fire services is about $2,800 annually, which works out to be $50 per household a year. But because only half of Mattis Point's residents pay for services, she said, the local service district has trouble paying the full amounts for waste, water and fire services.

That means hard decisions about what services will be supplied to the community, said Bennett.

"I can either pay to Western Regional Waste Management — if I don't pay them, this place is gonna rot in rats," said Bennett. "I can pay so much towards the fire department, but it's near impossible to do."

Bennett said Mattis Point can't have it both ways; the community can't expect to receive services without paying for them. She said the cost is about $480 a year per household for water and waste services and fire protection — adding residents would pay more if the local service district shut down.

"Four hundred and eighty dollars a year for water and waste and fire protection, I think that's wonderful," she said.

"If you were paying land taxes up here you'd be paying a lot more, and a lot more to lose. People don't see that."

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