First Nations leaders joined federal and provincial government officials and fire services representatives at the University of The Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, BC on October 3rd with plans for a one-of-a-kind safety blitz aimed at reducing fire fatalities on reserves. The campaign kicked off as Fire Prevention Week took place across Turtle Island with a unique series of educational materials that have been created utilizing traditional imagery and storytelling. Pamphlets and posters are being distributed to all First Nations in BC forming the basis of grass roots education focusing on the importance of working smoke alarms. Recent studies show that the fire death rates on reserves is far greater than the rest of the Canadian population.
The faces leading this fire safety campaign are the Honourable Steven and Dr. Gwen Point. Since 2005, Dr. Point has been an Assistant Professor in Social Work and Human Services at the University of the Fraser Valley. Prior to joining UFV, she was the Education Manager for the Sto:lo Nation. Steven Point is a Provincial Court judge and a former Lieutenant Governor of BC. He served as Chief of the Skowkale First Nation from 1975 to 1999, also serving as Tribal Chair for the Sto:lo Nation from 1994 to 1999. “Statistics tell us that we must continue to explore new ways to engage First Nations people in the responsibilities required to keep their families safe. My wife Gwen and I are happy to support this campaign with our efforts and our faces in the hope we can help make a difference,” said Steven Point.
First Nations Emergency Services Society of British Columbia plans to evolve the campaign into a travelling Safety Fair that would see Aboriginal youths and leaders trained to take the fire safety messages and practices onto reserves in BC and further across Canada. The campaign is fully supported by the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada, which promotes public and private partnerships such as these. Initial campaign materials featured a white-tail doe sensing fire danger and protecting her fawn, a photo of Dr. Gwen Point overseeing her husband Steven installing a working smoke alarm in their Chilliwack, BC home, and an art piece by His Honour promoting working smoke alarms called “The Raven’s Alarm.”
Surrey BC Fire Chief and past president of the Fire Chiefs Association of British Columbia Len Garis has been a driving force of the working smoke alarm movement in BC. “We know that fatalities are the consequence of people in any community not following the most rudimentary of fire safety practices,” said Chief Garis. “In fact, in more than three quarters of fire death investigations, smoke alarms were either found not to be present or not working. Simply, home owners must keep smoke alarms properly powered, never take them down if there is a false alarm from cooking, and replace them every ten years.”
Kidde Canada, a smoke alarm leader, also announced a combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarm donation valued at $100,000. More than 2,000 alarms featuring today’s latest sensing technology along with 10-year batteries that never need to be changed for the life of the alarm are being donated for installation in First Nations Communities.
First Nations’ Emergency Services Society of British Columbia (FNESS) assists First Nations in developing and sustaining safer and healthier populations. Edwin Mountain, President of FNESS and Volunteer Fire Chief of Xaxli’p First Nation said, “In our past experience working directly on reserves to help address safety issues, we have seen positive change when we combine education materials that reflect traditional Aboriginal teaching methods with discussions right at the community level. We can’t understate our support for the planned Youth Engagement aspects of this campaign.”