Canadian Firefighter Magazine

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First Nations five times likelier to die in a fire

March 29, 2021
By Maz Atta

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A new study led by the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council Project (NIFSC) painted a bleak picture within Indigenous communities, concluding that they are over five times likelier to die in a fire.

“Indigenous peoples across Canada are over five times more likely to die in a fire. That number increases to over 10 times for First Nations people living on reserve. Inuit are over 17 times more likely to die in a fire than non-Indigenous people,” reported the study.

Len Garis, director of research at the NIFSC Project, said these results were not a surprise. He said he wasn’t shocked due to similar studies he has viewed in the past regarding First Nations and fire-related incidents.

“Unfortunately, I kind of knew that,” Garis said. “There’s been three isolated studies that have taken place before. Between 2007 and 2011, a study in B.C. on mortalities said they were four times higher.”

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The study’s goal was to identify mortality and injury rates for Indigenous peoples in Canada to determine the severity of fire-related deaths and injuries, stated a press release by the NIFSC Project. It followed another study conducted earlier this year, which established that many social determinants, such as poverty and inadequate housing, are major factors contributing to the higher mortality rate among Indigenous communities.

Garis said this study was necessary because there isn’t enough fire data on Indigenous peoples since the government “stopped collecting that around 10 years ago.” In 2016, Toronto Star reported that Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett stated that the federal government has stopped collecting fire data in 2010 to ease the reporting burden on First Nations communities.

In light of these results, the NIFSC Project is offering culturally sensitive fire and safety training and education programs created for and delivered by Indigenous peoples. These programs are currently available to First Nations living on reserves and individuals working or volunteering in emergency services.

The NIFSC Project is encouraging Indigenous peoples to report fire incidents through the National Incident Reporting System (NIRS). A goal of NIRS is to provide the missing data regarding fire incidents.

Garis said the NIFSC Project asked Statistics Canada for a possibility and a cost to look at coroners’ data so they have a clearer understanding of mortality rates among Indigenous peoples.

“We can look at it a little deeper, not only based on the potential cases, but also if we can get a little more instruction on the geographical perspective,” Garis said.

The NIFSC Project has already launched nearly 80 programs and services to provide training and ongoing support to more than 650 First Nations communities. It will be hosting a virtual town hall on April 28 to further discuss the mortality and morbidity study.