Saskatchewan

Fire fighting funding a 'travesty,' Beardy's and Okemasis chief says

Rick Gamble, chief of the Beardy's and Okemasis First Nation, says funding for fire services is 'inadequate'.

Local fire truck too small for major fires

Rick Gamble is chief of the Beardy's and Okemasis First Nation. (CBC)

Rick Gamble, chief of the Beardy's and Okemasis First Nation, says funding for fire services on reserves is "inadequate".

"It's really a travesty as far as I'm concerned, expecting First Nations to carry out this type of responsibility when the funding is so inadequate," Gamble said, adding his voice to others who have been reacting to the deaths of two toddlers in a house fire on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation Tuesday.

The Beardy's and Okemasis reserve is about 90 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

Gamble said they get $50,000 per year in funding for fire services. The band has one fire truck for a community of 1,600 with around 300 buildings.

The fire truck, band council members note, is designed to fight grass fires and does not carry enough water to fight a more substantial structural fire.

Roy Petit recalled a fire call in 2014 where a mobile home was on fire. He said a fire crew was on the scene and were making progress in dousing the fire.

"It was getting under control," Petit, a band council member, said. "It was starting to smoulder but they they ran out of water because the tank is so small. It's meant for grass fires."

In that case, the mobile home was destroyed but no one was injured.

A motor home burned down in 2014 after fire crews ran out of water fighting the blaze. No one was hurt. (CBC)

Chief Gamble said the reserve relies heavily on two nearby communities — Rosthern and Duck Lake — for help, if a major fire breaks out.

"We've very dependent on them," he said, but added distance and time is also a factor. "Even if you have an agreement, how quickly can they get there?"

Gamble said the $50,000 in annual funding is spent on prevention programs, including smoke detectors.

While he was not able to provide a figure on how much money his community should have, he said they need support for improved equipment, training and volunteers.

With files from CBC's Steve Pasqualotto

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