THUNDER BAY - With the announcement that Fort William First Nation plans to establish its own volunteer fire department, Thunder Bay Fire Rescue officials say they will continue to respond to emergencies under the agreement with the community and assist when needed.
“Establishing a fire service be it volunteer, composite, or full time is a significant undertaking, so I’m sure they have a fair bit of work ahead of them,” said Thunder Bay Fire Rescue deputy chief, Greg Hankkio. “Right now it’s business as usual for us and we will continue to respond under the agreement that we have.”
Following a string of devastating fires in the community, a member of Fort William First Nation who recently completed the Pre-Service Firefighter Education and Training Program at Confederation College, brought forward a proposal to the band council to establish a volunteer fire service.
Currently, Fort William First Nation and the city of Thunder Bay have an agreement in place where TBFR responds to all emergency calls in the community, and Hankkio said that will not change.
“We will do whatever we can to work cooperatively with them, help them out, provide the information, and continue to respond as we are required to do so right now,” he said.
Fort William First Nation requested data from TBFR on the number of calls it responds to and the nature of those calls.
According to Hankkio, TBFR responds to an average of 120 to 130 calls in the First Nation per year. Those calls are similar in nature to the calls received in the city of Thunder Bay, including the tiered-response system with Superior North EMS.
“So typically the response they would be getting to their community would be all encompassing, it would be the same as any citizen or resident or taxpayer in the city of Thunder Bay would get,” he said.
But volunteer fire departments can have a significant impact in battling fires, which usually involves attacking a fire from the outside, but there can be drawbacks as well.
Hankkio said in order to effectively conduct an interior attack or search, as well as an exterior attack, typically 14 firefighters are required on the scene.
“They are looking at running a volunteer department, which does have an increased response time,” he said. “That is a given in the light of the fact that volunteers have to leave their work or their home to go to the station or the scene.”
“If a volunteer department can respond to an incident and apply agent or water to a fire before our arrival is very beneficial.”
Once a volunteer service is established, Hankkio said he does not know what that will mean for the current agreement the First Nation has with the city.
TBFR has a mutual aid agreement with neighbouring municipalities, which means they will provide assistance if required. Hankkio said TBFR would be willing to offer provide that aid to Fort William First Nation following the establishment of a volunteer service in the community.
“What the future holds with respect to the present agreement we have right now, I think that’s a fair ways down the road,” he said.