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Nunavut wages war against fire

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services

Rankin Inlet (Dec 08/04) - The Nunavut government is stepping up its efforts to battle the high costs of fire-related damage in the territory.

The government rolled out its $1 million Nunavut Fire Protection Strategy Implementation Plan this past month.

Rankin Inlet fire Chief Rick Penner checks the pressure of a breathing apparatus. Equipment upgrades are one of the top priorities of the new fire protection strategy in Nunavut. - Darrell Greer/NNSL photo

Assistant deputy minister for Community and Government Services Shawn Maley said the fire-protection strategy was developed in response to fire-related losses, such as the hamlet office in Repulse Bay and the Clyde River fire hall, among others.

The plan addresses areas that need to be improved in order to mitigate the risk of fire in Nunavut.

That includes training, equipment purchase and upgrade, public education, fire chief support and program recognition.

Maley said the first phase of implementing the improvements needed in Nunavut has begun.

He said once his department was given $1 million to initiate the strategy this year, its first task was to prioritize the areas to be addressed.

"The first question we had to answer was how we were going to make a direct impact early, but still build upon the other components of the strategy," said Maley

"You could have the best fire-alert system and the best responding fire department in the territory, but if you don't have an education system for kids to learn not to burn, then you haven't done anything.

"We've emphasized equipment and training this year because we do have some municipalities that have lagged behind, in terms of equipment upgrades.

"So we're doing that, but we're still trying to hit on all the other areas we think are important."

Maley said he would like to see the Nunavut fire protection strategy continue beyond this year.

But with growing financial demands on the Nunavut government, there's no guarantee on what future funding may be available.

Maley said fire chiefs from across Nunavut had input into the development of the fire protection strategy.

However, the actual prioritizing of the items was done through the office of the fire marshal.

"There was comprehensive consultation in the development of the strategy, but once that phase was completed, the office of the fire marshal took over much of the actual planning for 2004-05.

"We've already begun the training component and we're in the midst of equipment procurement."

Breath of fresh air

Maley identified the respiratory protection program as one area of prime importance in the plan.

The program will replace up to 120 sets of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) in community fire departments, complete with spare air cylinders and sufficient units for ongoing training sessions.

"Once we actually get the SCBAs into the communities, we will have an expert come in to check compressors, conduct air tests, ensure everyone in any given fire department knows how to fill bottles, and ensure the equipment is working properly."

Maley said while he doesn't want to downplay the importance of the plan's public education component, it was felt national fire-prevention initiatives were already helping to address that area.

"When we sat down to do this, we were made aware of the fact things like fire prevention colouring books and other teaching aids were already in place in schools across Nunavut.

"So, although it is important, we felt our first priority was to ensure we had properly trained firefighters and top-of-the-line alarm systems solidly in place.

"In short, our primary focus, as we get started with the strategy, is to ensure our equipment and training are up to speed."

Recognizing efforts

Maley said another area of the plan which appeals to him is the program-recognition component.

He said that aspect is geared towards developing awards and acknowledging the efforts of all those who provide assistance to the volunteer firefighting needs of Nunavut.

"We have all these men and women who literally put their lives on the line in protecting their communities.

"Recognizing their bravery is something we've never really done before.

"I'm sure it will be well received, both by the firefighters and the general public."