Lending a helping hand

Prince Albert firefighter David MacAuley gives a demonstration of the thermal imaging cameras to volunteer fire department representatives at the Prince Albert Fire Department on Friday. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

When the Prince Albert Firefighters Association was looking for causes in need of support, one kept popping up over and over: fires in First Nations communities.

After watching incidents like the 2014 house fire in Aktahkakoop First Nation, which killed two people, the association wanted to help volunteer fire departments responding to fires on reserve.

This past spring, they offered to purchase FLIR K2 thermal imaging cameras for any volunteer fire department that served a Saskatchewan First Nation community.

The response was nearly overwhelming. On Friday, representatives from 13 different departments gathered in Prince Albert to receive their new cameras, courtesy of the Prince Albert Firefighters Association Charity.

“It’s something that was tangible, that we could give these volunteer departments which they could use on a day-to-day basis,” association president Christ Bourdon said. “It was also something we could give them that they could have immediate use of. It’s not something where they’re going to have a big learning curve.”

The multi-use cameras help fire departments do everything from search and rescue operations to identifying possible hotspots after a fire is almost out. The purchase cost the charity roughly $20,000, but Bourdon says they’re more than worth the price.

“The technology is getting better and better every day and the costs are coming down, which is good too because you’re trying to stretch your dollar,” he said.

Bourdon added that First Nations communities are particularly vulnerable to fire largely owing to a lack of fire protection. He noted that a recent Canada-wide audit, showed 53 First Nations communities lacked adequate fire protection, 13 of which were in Saskatchewan. Since 2010, 16 people have died in fires in Saskatchewan First Nations communities, 10 of which were children under the age of 12.

Prince Albert firefighters did everything from calling bingo games to working car washes to help pay of the cameras. It’s a big change from their regular line of work, but Bourdon said they were more than happy to do it.

“We really enjoy our jobs and we love to get back to the community and this is just one of those ways that we can do that in Prince Albert and area.”

Representatives from the 13 fire departments were more than happy to receive the help. Ahtahkakoop fire chief Wilson Masuskapoe said they had very little in the way of equipment back in 2014. That’s started to change, but they’re still happy to get that extra boost.

“I think it will make a big difference,” he said when asked about the new cameras. “We had a few debts a while back, and couldn’t really do anything at the time. We didn’t have any equipment set up or anything. At least now, we have a bit of a fighting chance.”

Masuskapoe said the 2014 fire was hard for the community, especially since the fire department was undermanned and poorly equipped. Now the department has a crew of 20 firefighters, and their equipment is getting better and better.

“We want our community to be a little more secure, to give them that assurance that we’re there for them, if anything should happen,” he said.

Volunteer fire departments from Loon Lake, Morin Lake, Sucker River, Ahtahkakoop, Duck Lake, Wadena, Kerrobert, Buckland, Churchbridge, Beauval, Canora, Kelvington and the R.M. of Swift Current each received one camera. All departments are either primary or secondary fire departments for at least one First Nations community in Saskatchewan.

@kerr_jas • jason.kerr@paherald.sk.ca