Quebec coughs up firefighting money for Nunavik

Kuujjuaraapik fire chief, 18, wants some training

By JANE GEORGE

Akulivik’s fire hall is small — but at least it has one. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)


Akulivik’s fire hall is small — but at least it has one. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Firefighting in Nunavik is hampered by a lack of ready water — hydrants, like this one, can only be found in Kuujjuaraapik, where there is a piped water system. ((PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)


Firefighting in Nunavik is hampered by a lack of ready water — hydrants, like this one, can only be found in Kuujjuaraapik, where there is a piped water system. ((PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Soon Nunavik communities will be more equipped to prevent and fight fires when the region’s “fire safety cover plan” kicks in.

This plan calls for about $9.5 million of provincial money for new firefighting and fire prevention training, plus new equipment and infrastructure.

This money will bring Nunavik’s firefighters and their equipment up to Quebec standards.

So far, Quebec’s cabinet has approved $5.6 million of the money needed for the plan, which will pay for new fire trucks in Kuujjuaraapik, Puvirnituq, Inukjuak and Kangiqsualujjuaq, fire halls for Quaqtaq, Kangiqsujuaq, Inukjuak and Puvirnituq and other equipment.

This is the first major contribution of provincial money that Nunavik has received for firefighting in more than 10 years.

To get it, the Kativik Regional Government, whose civil security department coordinates firefighting and fire prevention in Nunavik, had to lobby hard.

The balance of the money, earmarked for the KRG’s security department and training for firefighters, hasn’t yet been formally announced.

When Quebec finally gave KRG the green light to buy fire trucks and build new fire halls earlier this year, it was too late for any new trucks to be ordered, according to information tabled at last month’s KRG council meeting in Kuujjuaq.

But even so, Kuujjuaraapik’s fire chief, Daniel Roussel, welcomes news that his community will see a new fire truck that meets all standards in 2011.

As well, Kuujjuaraapik’s cramped fire hall will be extended and the firefighters will also receive other badly-needed equipment, such as an all-terrain vehicle and a snowmobile.

“It will help,” said Roussel, 18, has been firefighting for two years — since he was only 16.

Roussel said he’s also looking forward next spring to getting some formal training as a firefighter. To date, all the training he received came from his predecessor.

“There was no program here at all,” he said. “We really need the training.”

The plan is for trainers to travel from community to community in Nunavik, offering training sessions every month to firefighters like Roussel.

This program will prepare him and other participants to become full-fledged firefighters.

In Quebec’s smaller municipalities, with fewer than 25,000 residents, firefighters are supposed to complete this 275-hour training program to obtain their Firefighter I status.

Over the next four years Nunavimmiut will see progress on all 17 recommendations made by the fire safety cover plan which include:

• a call for a public safety officer in every community;
• local fire departments with at least 10 members each;
• more maintenance programs;
• more enforcement of municipal bylaws intended to fight fires; and,
• sprinkler installation in all new residential buildings.

The $2.9 million that Quebec gave Nunavik in 1999 went for overhauls to existing firetrucks — but the trucks in Kuujjuaraapik, Puvirnituq, Inukjuak and Kangiqsualujjuaq now need to be replaced.

As for the airtanks, breathing apparatus and suits firefighters need to fight fires — “all this equipment is now outdated,” says the fire safety cover plan.

The other challenges facing Nunavik firefighting include the lack of available water for pumpers. Compressed air foam systems need less water, but this firefighting technique is not recognized by Quebec.

Kuujjuaraapik is only place in Nunavik which has hydrants to supply a steady stream of water for pumper trucks.

This a real bonus for the community, Roussel said, because the pressure is high enough right out of the hydrant to push water out of a hose.

Most fires in Nunavik occur in residential buildings, and between 2000 and 2006 there were 189 fires, the fire safety plan notes.

Of these, 77 were caused by smoking, 34 were of undetermined cause and seven resulted from arson.

Property losses were high: from 2000 to 2004, property losses added up to $26.9 million, or $539 per Nunavik resident compared $71 to $136 in the rest of Quebec.

Major losses due to fire over the past 10 years include the power plant and school in Kuujjuaraapik, the co-op store and garage in Puvirnituq and the co-op store in Salluit.

Since 1999, each municipality in Nunavik has received only $25,000 to provide its volunteer-based firefighting services.

This means only a few communities were able to put together all the necessary financial resources to build fire halls, convert buildings or municipal buildings for equipment.

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