Welcome, Madam Chair, and welcome, committee members.
[Member spoke in Oneida]
My name is Randall Phillips, and I am currently the elected chief at the Oneida Nation of the Thames. It is an Oneida community. It is located about 25 kilometres southwest of London, Ontario. It's a unique community in itself in that we established our community around 1830. We were at a forced relocation from our homelands in the United States, and we ended up in what we called our traditional beaver hunting grounds. With respect to the Algonquins of this territory, we also have a shared interest in this land.
First of all, thank you very much for inviting me to this. Unfortunately, I am the recipient of this invitation because of certain tragedies that happened in our communities and to our people.
I want to let you know that, as of December last year.... I know that even that was announced by the on the news in terms of the disaster that took the lives of one of our men and four of our children, but that was not the only fire disaster that has happened in our community within the last 10 years.
We have had other losses, too. One young lady who was very instrumental within our community in terms of gathering herbs and passing that message on—very much what we might call a healer—perished in a fire. She couldn't get out. She had a wheelchair ramp, so there were mobility issues. We had another fire in approximately 2011, and the same thing happened. We are not immune in terms of this disaster, that's for sure.
We are the fifth-largest community in Ontario in terms of population, not in size, but in population. Our community currently has over 500 houses, and approximately 35% of those houses are in need of repair. Approximately 10% of those houses are in need of destruction. We have approximately 40 houses like that, so 8%, that should be demolished right now. They're uninhabitable, but we have an overcrowding issue at our community, just like a lot of communities.
We tend to, as Iroquoian people and Haudenosaunee people, stick together, and we also share our same houses. We have that problem. We can see a disaster with respect to the Antone family, in terms of how that happened. We were lucky that three other young people plus the mother were gone, so that could have been even worse.
That's the sort of situation we find ourselves in. There are social and economic conditions that add to this, and we can't just simply look at a fire management program or a fire suppression program and try to address this. I understand the need for incrementalism, and I also understand the need to move on issues where we can move on them.
For our community, and certainly for myself as the leader and chief, I've had some issues with our fire protection for a long time, not from the people who provide the service, not from our volunteers, but in terms of our capacity, in terms of trying to do what we can do. Again, as a larger community, we have access to equipment that other communities don't have. We have access to the nearby city of London, which also provided some training to us as well. Other communities don't have that either.
The one thing they have that we don't have is a base in terms of our firefighters and our professionals who do this work. They're volunteers. If any of you have been on the road in terms of this kind of volunteer work, you will know very quickly that your first disaster, the first limb that you see severed, or your first horrific sight is going to change your perspective on whether you think that's a profession for you or not. Unfortunately, our first responders in our communities have to see that. Not only do they have to see that, they have to see that knowing they know who that person is.
We look at that. I look at our own current staff and the struggles that they go through, and I'm sure my colleagues to the left of me will tell you the same thing with regard to their staffing.
In terms of aftercare, I don't know what the word is in the fire profession, but certainly we need to take care of our staff. If we're going to have them perform at their their peak whenever we need them, then we need to take care of them. I don't see any systems that allow us to do that properly.
When it comes to our staffing, it's the old adage of “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. We have one full-time fire staff on duty, and that is the fire chief. That's a nine-to-five job, an administrative job. We're looking at that. We certainly all need access to this whole notion of staff capacity, complement of equipment, and constant training. Certainly we need more resources from our community to do that.
Again, our community is one of the largest ones, as is my sister community to the left of me. The current funding formula from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs stops at a population threshold of 1,200 people. We have 6,000 so we have to find other monies for all these public services, and we try. We have the equipment, but we don't have the men.
That's just one side, so you might have questions on that. I'm trying to speed up, Madam Chair.
The other issue I wanted to talk to you about as well is our capacity in terms of that equipment. Right now, our community is serviced through our own aquifer. However, there is limited access to that water. Four-inch-diameter pipes were installed throughout our community. Anybody in the profession can confirm that's not adequate pressure. This was one of the problems in the last fire: we didn't have enough pressure. We need infrastructure development and investment to change the rest of those four-inch pipes to six-inch pipes. We need more hydrants in our community. Again, we're one of the biggest ones.
We have an awful lot of roads to maintain, and we're going to continue to grow. If I can take one step back with regard to our firefighters, we've been working on a program with an outside agency to get them trained to deal with roof-mounted solar panel fires. We know they're dangerous and need to be dealt with in a special way, so we're providing that training to our firefighters. We're one of the first first nations communities to provide that training, because we have those facilities in our community. They will be gone once the city of London and the other municipalities around us find out they have that training; then we're back to square one.
Those are two of the things we need. One of the keys here is there needs to be a look at our housing programs. Again, this can't be done in isolation. The tragedies that occurred in our community were preventable, but the structures were old and very susceptible to fire. We really didn't have a chance. When we put in housing standards they have to be appropriate. The housing standards for a first nations national housing program will not meet the needs of southern Ontario. They will be different from northern Ontario so we have to look at that. The fire standards of how many officers, how many this and how many that, might be nice for some kind of budgeting process, but they need to meet the reality of what's going on in the community.
We try our best to support everybody we can, but we certainly need your help. Our firefighters and our emergency services can't do it alone. Oneida is the fifth-largest community in Ontario, and we have all these services. Other people in other communities rely on us as well, because that's what we're supposed to do with our brothers and sisters. We're supposed to help them.
It's very difficult to try to provide that help when we just simply don't have the capacity.
I wanted to say thank you very much for listening to that story, and I appreciate the invite. Yaw?’ko
First, thank you, Madam Chair and to the standing committee for inviting me.
To give you a background, I am Kellyann Meloche. I'm from the Mohawk community of Kahnawake. My Mohawk name is actually Tekaríwenhawi, which means she's coming with a message. It's quite appropriate, isn't it?
My background in emergency management is that I've been doing this for the last 24 years, working with the Mohawk Council in our community. Also I've spent 18 years as a firefighter and paramedic in our community, as well. I know the boots on the ground helps me be a better planner and manager. I also had the privilege in the last three years of working with the nine Cree communities in Quebec. I've also worked in 11 states in the United States, with first nations communities and tribal communities down there, as well, and got to know quite a lot. With that knowledge and with the experience, I'd like to give you some information here today.
Emergency preparedness has evolved within the world to that of a four-phase approach entitled emergency management. We started off with emergency preparedness, and then all of a sudden it went to emergency management and the four pillars.
As a Mohawk of Kahnawake, having worked with many indigenous communities in Canada and the United States, I've had the privilege of learning their programs, viewing their plans, meeting their committees, and providing guidance for improvement. Based on my experiences, I'd like to give you three simple proactive steps. Ask. Listen. Act. It's that easy, honestly.
Number one is ask. Each community is at a different level within emergency management. They have different resources, locations, threats, risk, etc. In terms of resources, I'm even talking human and equipment. Infrastructure is different. Although the community size can be different, the resource needs are the same. We all need fire protection. We all need first responders, whether you only have 10 houses or 2,000 houses.
There is no cookie-cutter solution. We need to understand that. We cannot just develop a template and provide this to the communities and say here, fill it out, here's your emergency plan. It's not going to work.
Outreach to each on their needs. What level are they? How much knowledge do they have regarding emergency management? Some are scared when they hear that I'm even going to their community to assist them with their emergency plan. It's flustering for them because they say, goodness, where's that plan at? Do you know where the emergency plan is? I need to find it. And then they dust it off the shelf, and they say, okay, here it is, here's a 200-page emergency preparedness plan, and the resources are not there anymore, the people aren't there anymore, phone numbers have changed, and their knowledge of emergency planning is minimal. They think that the answer is in this 200-page document, when the answer should be already up here. What do I need to do? Who do I call?
A simple assessment can be completed with each of these communities. The inventory has to be done. What are your human resources? What type of equipment do you currently have, and what is the knowledge that you have on the use of that equipment? It's okay to have a fire truck or a pumper truck or a ladder truck, but if you don't know how to use it and you don't have the training for it, it's useless.
Number two is listen. All too often, I've sat in presentations where we're told here's the solution, here's how we can help you, here's how to better your problems. This can be very frustrating. We live and work in our communities. We know the challenges that we face, and we also have some solutions. Working with us by listening and offering guidance is the best way. How did X and X community do this and succeed? What are the success stories, and how can we apply it in our communities?
Government, volunteer organizations, and emergency services, should participate in presentations on how to work with indigenous communities. How can you come and work with us? We'll be happy to tell you. Knock on our door and ask, how can we work with you, similar to this with the committee. Get to know the communities. Although INAC or DIAND have the responsibility for our communities, we are a people and we are your neighbours.
Standardized training given across Canada should be accessible, not something that was specifically developed for our communities.
The one thing that I noticed when I started out in emergency management is.... I took a specific course with INAC or with DIAND, I don't know what the name was then, but I took a course with them. Then I went to the Canadian Emergency Preparedness College in Arnprior, when it was still open. It was a great place to learn. It was totally different, what I learned there. It was almost like I took the college course there and then I took the grade 2 course with INAC, and it didn't work. We need to have standardized training across Canada, for all the people here in Canada.
Next, a thorough gap and overlap analysis must be completed with indigenous community on emergency management response.... Where are the gaps falling? I feel that it's not only within the equipment resources, but also within the training for how to use those resources. I find it's a huge gap.
Number three is act. This seems to be the step that's always missing in operational plans. We need to act. Once you've asked the questions, once you've learned about the communities, it's time to act on the suggestions that they've given you. I have a few suggestions for you.
We need emergency operations centres. EOCs are the operational beehives of emergency response. If community EOCs are not available, have a regional one specifically for indigenous communities, staffed by those people from those surrounding communities. If we cannot afford to have individual emergency operations centres in each community, let's have a regional one, with people from those communities who can coordinate both.
Support organizations that have response experience to work with our communities. Partner with the likes of the Red Cross, with St. John Ambulance, with the Justice Institute of B.C., for example, and have local representatives. When I say local representatives, I mean indigenous representatives, trained as members of the Red Cross. We are also members of the Red Cross.
Develop a first nations coordinators association that would allow indigenous emergency managers to work together, share experiences, provide peer advice, and just help one another.
In Kahnawake, we've had a lot of emergencies, unfortunately, but we've got a lot of successes, and it's worked. We can share that information with others.
Next, within each provincial emergency operations centre, have a representative specifically for indigenous communities who is of indigenous descent. We understand our brothers and sisters. We know the needs of other communities. Although I'm from a different nation or community, I understand, when I go to my brother and sister community, where they're coming from.
Assign an indigenous member to act as liaison within the government. This would help build relationships and trust and share the knowledge. The person in this position would advise emergency management coordinators of external resources and the steps to be taken when an emergency occurs.
Now, if we have someone working with you from and representing the indigenous communities, we can ask those questions that are needed. I've heard so many stories of the evacuation taking so long, the Red Cross not getting there for weeks, whatever the examples are.... “Well, did you make the call?” or “Who were you waiting for? Did you need permission from somebody, is that what it was? Why were you waiting?”
Funding for emergency management is good. Allowing a full-time emergency management coordinator is great, but don't just leave them afterwards. Guidance and direction on steps to take, how to plan, and what that plan looks like elsewhere are key.
During an emergency, the focus should be on life, property, and environment, not on keeping track of financial transactions as requested by DIAND. Gaining knowledge on memorandums of understanding with surrounding communities, understanding that it can be done now, no permission should be needed to call upon external services.
Finally, before a disaster strikes, proper funding should be given to ensure homes are built to code, preferably by local contractors from those communities. Infrastructure, having hydrants—the insurance companies know if it's not built to code and there's no hydrants there, your rates go up, and you're paying a lot more for something that costs a lot less.
Any community taking on emergency management can find it overwhelming at first. Looking at the big picture, preparedness can be accomplished one step at a time, by working together.
Thank you very much.
Once again, there are dollars that are given to the fire department. In many cases, the community has to divvy up the dollars, and they don't get to the fire department.
Our current push would be education and fire prevention. The reality is that you can have the best fire department in the world, but if you don't have an operating smoke detector and a home escape plan, people are going to die. I think that whatever program is, it has to be thought out from the beginning to the end.
The Department of Indigenous Services had a program. The intent was to put smoke detectors in every native home—a very good idea, life-saving.
I'm not sure how the program was developed, but there was a lack of planning in the sense that they didn't identify how they were going to put the smoke detectors out, who was going to install them, or what would be the measure of success. What happened was that 10,000 smoke detectors were shipped out. Some ended up in the public works garage with nobody to put them out, and it ended there.
If we were to ask how many detectors were installed and whether they were working, they probably wouldn't be able to tell you. We don't have a measurable system.
Once again, it was a very good program, and the aboriginal firefighters support it, but we need to think these types of things through and maybe give extra resources for hiring somebody in the community to make sure it is followed through on. Then, more importantly, six months down the road, we need to find out if the detectors are still there and whether the batteries are in them.
I know there is a push to give a smoke detector with a 10-year battery every time a child is born, with a little bit of public education. That will save or monitor the child for the first 10 years of life. It's something that seems to be getting a lot of attention.
If we have limited resources, we need to carefully think out the programs and ensure they're followed from A to Z. The smoke detector was a very good initiative, but there were problems.
Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to present here today on this crucial topic.
As you know, my name is Sean Tracey. I'm a deputy chief with the Ottawa Fire Services and have been asked to participate on behalf of my esteemed colleague, Chief Ken Block, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.
I'm a fire engineer by training and previously served as a director with the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners, as chair of the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness, and as the Canadian regional manager for the National Fire Protection Association.
I am joined at this table by CAFC's executive director, Dr. Tina Saryeddine.
I'd like to begin by telling you a little about the CAFC. Founded in 1909, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs is an independent, non-profit organization representing approximately 3,500 fire departments across Canada. The primary mission of CAFC is to promote the highest standard of public safety in an ever-changing and increasingly complex world to ensure the protection of the public through leadership, advocacy, and active collaboration with key stakeholders. This collaboration occurs primarily through a national advisory council on which we have the honour of having each of the provincial fire chief associations as well as the national affiliate associations.
One of these groups is the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada, AFAC, with which we have the privilege of collaborating closely. As fire chiefs, in either aboriginal or non-aboriginal departments or regions, we all have the same goal: safety of our people and communities. Unfortunately for our aboriginal communities, the situation is far more grave than anywhere else in Canada.
According to the 2007 CMHC study, “Fire Prevention in Aboriginal Communities”, aboriginal communities experience a fire death rate 10.4 greater and a fire damage rate 2.1 times greater than the Canadian average. Additionally, these communities are often at the greatest risk to wild land/urban interface fires like we've recently seen in Fort McMurray and Slave Lake.
CAFC recognizes the significantly proportional losses and the challenges aboriginal communities face and, as a result, has been working with AFAC to advocate for a better way to correct this aberration. We believe that a three-pronged approach is the way forward.
First, CAFC strongly supports the establishment of programs that look at fire prevention and public education as a first line of defence in protecting these lives.
Second, CAFC believes that services in these communities must be based on community risk assessments that provide them with services comparable to an equivalent non-aboriginal community.
Third, CAFC is working with and supports the efforts of AFAC and the Department of Indigenous Services Canada, DISC, in the establishment of an indigenous fire marshal's office.
Please allow us to expand on each of these points.
Fire prevention and public education programs are the cornerstones of any loss reduction program. Every community or band should have, as a minimum, a fire prevention and public education program that focuses on working smoke alarms. This is the norm in all provinces and we have seen significant gains as a result.
Having public education programs adapted for cultural references will be key and have been proven successful in the past. For example, national programs developed by organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association, the not-for-profit organization that brings you Fire Prevention Week, have adapted programs including Wisdom of the Fire, Risk Watch, and Remembering When. Future programs can include promotion of culturally specific messaging for Fire Prevention Week. It can include best practice programs such as presenting the family of every newborn with a working smoke alarm with a 10-year battery and instruction on what to do in event of a fire. Unfortunately, such programs need support in their adaptation and implementation in the communities.
Community risk assessments need to be developed for each aboriginal community so as to prioritize these limited resources. This would look at the number and condition of housing, businesses and industries and their risks. It would include demographic and geographical factors, the threat from wildfires, available mutual aid, isolation, etc.
This would then look at comparable services provided to nearby non-aboriginal communities with similar risk profiles, neighbouring communities where their citizens have funded their fire services through their tax bases. These risk assessments would determine the service levels that would form the basis for annual program spending. It would build capability through firefighter training programs, fund existing departments, and build capital expenditure planning. This would create long-term, sustainable fire protection capabilities in these communities. AFAC, with participation by CAFC, has done extensive work in developing a new level of service standards for DISC based on such risk assessments. This should be implemented and funded appropriately to ensure levels of protection on a par with non-aboriginal communities.
Finally and critically, there is the establishment of an indigenous fire marshal's office supported by legislation. The IFMO would be responsible for the further development of these concepts and the delivery of these services. The IFMO, with regional offices, would be able to develop and distribute prevention programs, work on their adaptation with local champions, and report on fire loss statistics. The IFMO staff can also guide communities in their development of risk assessments and ensure a uniform application of standards across the country. They can collect best practices and communicate these to their regions. They can run regional training programs for firefighters and prioritize equipment programs—all benefits that every province currently reaps through their fire marshal's offices but that are not available to aboriginal communities. The establishment of the IFMO can correct this.
In conclusion, CAFC firmly believes that the above elements are critical for the reduction of fire losses to these at-risk communities. All of these programs are deliverable by indigenous persons for their communities. We just need the commitment from you to make this happen. To the best of my recollection, we have never been as close as we are now to accomplishing our goal of reducing the embarrassing record of fire deaths in our aboriginal communities. It is critical that we follow through with these programs.
I apologize for the technical glitch here.
On behalf of the regional government, we have submitted two documents for your record: our most recent statistic in our 14 Inuit communities here in Nunavik, northern Quebec, under the governance of the Kativik regional government. We have also submitted a PowerPoint presentation we developed and presented recently on the SAR data management and the challenges and objectives of our search and rescue management in the region. Both are very helpful and supportive documents in giving some of the background, the challenges, and the achievements we've made in recent years.
Of course, what we anticipate and continue to deal with as a major problem and a major obstacle is the lack of adequate funding to be able to achieve corrective measures in all of our challenges. We have very young municipalities, in that most or all are only slightly over 30 years since incorporation.
We're all isolated. There are no roads or rail connecting our communities with the rest of Canada. We have a smaller demographic—a smaller pool of people and resources to draw from—which is a challenge, but we are dedicated and we have been creative. The isolation and remoteness force us to be activated in all circumstances of local emergency, search and rescue, and fire intervention. Because of the distance, we cannot depend on any partnership with any other community, so there is a need for optimized local resources.
Communications are a challenge and continue to be, as we are experiencing here today: we have video conference capability, but it's not working for us—my apologies. We have very, very slow—sometimes non-existent—bandwidth for Internet connection, but we are growing and progressing.
We have made great achievements, and we continue to work hard towards that objective. We have professionally trained some 70 Fire Fighter 1 qualified volunteer firefighters from throughout our region, and we have another six who are doing our non-urban officer qualification to the NFPA standard. We've developed a great resource of local regional trainers who are able to communicate in the mother tongue Inuktitut language. This, we feel, is the key to enabling our people to work, train, and gain success for ourselves.
You have some of the statistics. You have some of the challenges we've laid out. These are fairly accurate and most recent.
I know you are all at the end of your day and of your meeting schedule, so I will relinquish the opportunity to continue speaking and answer any questions you may have for us.
We'll switch. That's fine. Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
By the way, great job earlier. I think you were bang-on.
And, Chief, I think you're bang-on as well with respect to some of the comments you made. In coming back to my former life as a mayor in a municipality, this is something that's very near and dear to my heart, having worked on strategic planning. The points that you both made very credibly are on how important it is to look at a more holistic approach and the bigger picture as it relates to not just emergency services, emergency preparedness, but really a plan for everything that is touched on and by emergency services, such as infrastructure, building code. And they were about the entire community's working together to ensure that, again, it's a community, bigger-picture plan to deal with these challenges.
I want to dive in a bit deeper because my desire here is to, hopefully, after this process, receive from you recommendations. I do sit on the indigenous caucus. This is something we're talking about when it comes to economic development, emergency preparedness, infrastructure, and the list goes on. I need to get something out of this versus just listening, and hearing, and talking.
What I want to gear at is the “how” to the “what”. We know what the “what” is here, and we know that there's individual strategic planning, identify deliverables, attach actions to those. And there are adequacy standards; Chief, you touched on how those are, essentially, not in a cookie cutter but specific to each individual community. There are emergency preparedness protocols, whether they be per incident or in the bigger picture in terms of emergency situations that are more community, regional, if not even provincial, in nature; the governance side with respect to the budget and being stewards of where the money goes, especially from capital; the operations side in terms of where money goes with respect to response, prevention. And I'll even throw emergency medical services, EMS, into that as well.
I'm not sure how you're dispatched. I'm not sure how you're tiered. I'm assuming that you're dispatched more on a regional area in different first nations communities. It would be more of a question, who actually does the dispatch, and are they tiered, and who are they tiered to with respect to fire, police, and EMS? Of course, included in all that is proper building code, which includes fire alarms, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms. Then with all that is your infrastructure, ensuring proper infrastructure, and we can go on from there. Then lastly is the economic development of all this, human resources. Who's actually going to person your EMS, your fire, your police, and so on and so forth? As well, with respect to infrastructure, who's going to build the infrastructure? Who's going to build the homes? Who's going to actually establish the inspections of the building code within those homes?
I throw all that on the table. Now I'm going to be quiet. I want to hear from you on recommendations that you think can actually satisfy all of the above so that this committee can actually make recommendations to the ministries to actually make this happen.
You're obviously knowledgeable about the challenges we face.
For the sake of time, I'll try to summarize. Within our region, we are very young. We have a population that's growing exponentially. I believe the last census puts our population under the age of 25 at close to 60% of our regional population, so that's very high growth and an expanding population factor.
That said, we have limited demographics and limited resources that we can call upon. We have many people in small communities who wear many hats, and we ask those who are capable of doing to do as much as they can and more. We have volunteer firefighters, volunteer first responders, and volunteer Canadian Rangers. We have many who step up and meet the call.
That said, volunteering is not necessarily in the same sense that we know it traditionally in the country, because employment and salaried or great jobs or good jobs are very hard to find, so remuneration for any volunteer is very important.
I don't mean to digress here. I just want to try to touch on all of it for your question.
With regard to housing, it's probably one of the most complicated and compounding issues we face. We are facing a shortage of I believe 800 to 1,000 housing units in the region, depending on the last census, the last survey. It's not uncommon to see three and four generations living in a house. We have parents with children and their common-law spouses with their children living in the same house, as well as elders. It's not uncommon to see more than 10 or 12 people living in a three-bedroom house. This causes major problems for many reasons. Also, if we do lose a house to a fire, it just compounds all of the problems exponentially and socially. Because of the climate, the geography, and the remoteness, we can't deal with that for probably a year after the fact, so it's a very devastating issue when we do have fires.