How one fire department succeeds as many fail

Six Nations Chief Matthew Miller is keeping his civilians safe while others see skyrocketing fire deaths; he aims to help those departments

By FireRescue1 Staff

OHSWEKEN, Ontario — A First Nations fire chief is on a mission to help neighboring reserve crews be more effective and reduce civilian fire deaths.

Six Nations Fire Chief Matthew Miller told the Hamilton Spectator that his crews, just like other First Nations, experience similar problems in terms of infrastructure and overcrowding.

However, Chief Miller said their reserve has a lower fire death rate. According to an Ontario fire marshal's data, the last time a civilian died in a house fire was in 2011. In contrast, at least 173 people have died in house fires on First Nations reserves since 2010.

In Six Nations communities, each house meets or exceeds national building and fire codes. Additionally, each home has a smoke detector. There's currently no legislation applying the national fire code on reserves.

Chief Miller said many First Nations also don't have adequate fire protection services; data shows most firefighting equipment is rated in poor or terrible condition.

The Six Nations Fire Department has 16 fire trucks and its brand new station is stocked with state-of-the-art equipment, according to the report.

"There is some misunderstanding that we're receiving more federal funding than anyone else," Chief Miller said. "But we actually get the same as everyone else, based on the same funding model."

The department's budget is about $1.4 million per year. A third of the budget comes from Ottawa, while the rest comes from revenue elected council members generate from partnerships.

Chief Miller also said that it takes more than money. Something as simple as getting new, matching uniforms for the volunteers immediately boosted firefighter morale.

"If you give them the proper gear, they can feel safe," he said. "They can feel cared about, and then you can push them harder in training."

Chief Miller is looking to use his experience to better training for other First Nations crews.

"We're not making a profit off it but it's something that really needs to be done to help our brother and sister communities," he said.

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