Hay River Reserve reviving its fire department after years of inactivity

The community is planning to bring back a basic level of service, which would act as a first line of defence against fires.

New fire chief aims to have department up and running within a year

A fire on the reserve on February 15 left one person dead. The Hay River Fire Department responded quickly to that incident (Jimmy Thomson/CBC)

With an easy crossing from Hay River, it's not a problem in the winter for the Hay River Fire Department to respond to fires like the one that claimed the life of Rodney Chambaud on February 15. But come summer that trip will multiply in length.

Fortunately, after several years, the Hay River Reserve may soon have its fire department up and running once more.

The department has been idle since approximately 2010, according to new fire chief Doug Lamalice, and has been without even a working fire truck since the existing truck was taken to fight a fire by untrained people. 

"We had a couple of people that went into the fire hall, grabbed the truck, and tried to douse a fire, and didn't know what they were doing and damaged our truck," says Lamalice.

In December, the Office of the Fire Marshal recommended that the reserve offer a "basic" level of service, meaning that fire fighters would douse fires from outside of buildings, and not adopt more dangerous techniques that require even more specialized training and equipment. 

The First Nation has not formally responded yet but Lamalice says he agrees with the recommendation. 

He's already recruited several firefighters, and aims to have the department up and running within a year. 

Revival underway before fatality

Rodney Chambaud, 27, was killed in a house fire on the Hay River Reserve Feb. 15. (Submitted by Shirley Chambaud)
In mid-February a house fire shocked the community, leaving 27-year-old Chambaud, of Meander River, Alta., dead and another woman in the hospital.

Chambaud is remembered by friends and relatives as a caring and hardworking person who "always wanted to make people happy," according to the eulogy delivered at his funeral. 

Lamalice says the fire was not responsible for accelerating the process of restarting the department, which was already underway – and that he is impressed by the consistently quick response of the Hay River Fire Department.

"I feel that we will be quicker, because we're right in the community, but with that [ice] crossing the way it is, Hay River is very quick," he says. "Boom! They're right there."

But he says he is concerned about the summer, when Hay River is not able to respond as quickly using the ice crossing.

"In the summer when there's a long distance all the way around, that's when it's kind of critical to get our department in order," he said. 

"Right now, that ice road's in there so it gives us time to get our proper training, and our proper equipment." 

The Hay River Fire Department's fire chief, Ross Potter, has offered training to Lamalice's fledgling department, and the Fire Marshal also offers free training. 


Jimmy Thomson is a former reporter for CBC North.