POLITICS

NDP, Saskatchewan government concerned about child fire deaths on reserves

03/10/2014 06:21 EDT | Updated 05/10/2014 05:59 EDT
REGINA - Concerns are being raised in Saskatchewan about the number of First Nations children dying in fires.

Opposition NDP Leader Cam Broten said in the legislature Monday that four children have died in fires on Saskatchewan reserves since September. Broten also noted that a study commissioned by the federal government suggested First Nations people are 10 times more likely to die in a fire than the rest of the population.

"When you hear stories of two children dying and the fire truck not being able to start and go provide some help, that is not acceptable," said Broten.

"And so we have, absolutely, a responsibility as a province to say to the feds, 'This needs to be fixed. It has to end.' Children, whether they're on reserve or off reserve, deserve to have fire protection services and have a better chance of surviving a tragedy."

Two boys, who were nine and 10, died when a fire tore through a home in the community of Pelican Narrows in January.

Richard Kent, commissioner of emergency and protective services with the Prince Albert Grand Council, said at the time that the volunteer fire chief went to the fire hall but the fire truck wouldn't start. Kent also said First Nations firefighting is problematic because building and fire codes don't apply to structures on reserves.

In September, a 10-year-old girl died in Pelican Narrows after going back inside a house to make sure her great-grandfather was no longer in the burning building.

Another 10-year-old girl died more recently in a house fire on the Witchekan Lake First Nation. The cause of the March 2 blaze is still under investigation.

Jim Reiter, Saskatchewan's minister responsible for First Nations, said he plans to raise the issue next week with his federal counterpart, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.

"While we recognize and respect that it's federal jurisdiction, this issue is really important and we don't want to get hung up on jurisdiction," said Reiter.

"Just as our emergency management people right now are assisting in the investigation, I'm going to certainly offer that we'll continue with that sort of assistance, but also that possibly we could play a bigger role in training for emergency services on First Nations."