The volunteer firefighters at Bearskin Lake First Nation have only a small pickup truck equipped with a water pump to keep the community safe, said Pelham fire Chief Bob Lymburner. The gift was arranged by Welland Rotary Club, which contacted the town in the fall to discuss donating the firetruck.

 

“There’s been a lot of fires up there, that’s what really got me,” said Rotarian Douglas Johnson. He said the Rotary Club hopes the donation is the start of a closer relationship with First Nations communities.

 

The volunteer firefighters at Bearskin Lake First Nation have only a small pickup truck equipped with a water pump to keep the community safe, said Pelham fire Chief Bob Lymburner.

“They do the best they can with what they have, but it’s not good,” he said.

Due to inadequate federal funding, “fire safety is not what it should be on the reserves,” Lymburner added.

“Fire services on reserves are not run provincially, they’re run federally. And their fire services are very poorly funded.”

Although Bearskin Lake has 12 fire hydrants located throughout the community, the volunteer firefighters are too poorly equipped to effectively make use of those them.

But that will soon change for the firefighters in the remote First Nations reserve located about 400 km north of Thunder Bay.

A decommissioned Pelham pumper truck was loaded onto a trailer, filled with a variety of firefighting equipment as well as clothing and other items donated for residents on the reserve. It left Thursday morning on its two day journey of nearly 2,000km to Sioux Lookout, before traveling along ice roads to Bearskin Lake First Nations Reserve where it will continue to save lives and property in the remote community of about 900 people.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

After 25 years of service fire trucks no longer meet insurance guidelines and must be decommissioned to meet provincial regulations, but Lymburner said First Nations reserves fall under federal government regulations for fire services.

The town is replacing the old 1991 Pelham pumper with a new vehicle, it should still serve the the reservation’s firefighters for years to come.

Bearskin Lake First Nation deputy chief Wayne Brown was in Pelham in October to inspect the truck and meet with town council.

Although Brown was handed a set of keys during his visit, Mayor Dave Augustyn said that was a ceremonial gesture. Fire trucks, he pointed out, don’t have keys.

He said they had to wait for the ice roads to freeze before the truck could be delivered to its new home in the remote community.

Pelham firefighters also couldn’t part with the old truck until its replacement was ready for the road. And the new truck wasn’t ready for service until Thursday.

“Today, we’re putting a brand new truck into service,” Lymburner said.

Augustyn said the old pumper is still in “excellent shape,” despite having nearly 3,000 hours on it.

“There’s lots of tender love and care in this truck that the fire service has done,” he said.

Lymburner said the cab of the truck was filled with “about a dozen sets of decommissioned bunker gear that we can no longer use, but they can certainly use it on the reservation.”

“There’s an enormous amount of clothes, kids clothes and blankets donated by local churches, and whatever equipment we can’t utilize anymore,” he added. “There are radios in there.”

Lymburner said the local firefighters ensured the truck was as well equipped as possible, so it could be put into service immediately upon its arrival.

Augustyn said the Pelham Firefighters association even replaced the Town of Pelham logos with new decals that say Bearskin Lake First Nations.

The gift was arranged by Welland Rotary Club, which contacted the town in the fall to discuss donating the firetruck.

“There’s been a lot of fires up there, that’s what really got me,” said Rotarian Douglas Johnson.

He said the Rotary Club hopes the donation is the start of a closer relationship with First Nations communities.

“It’s a really exciting day and a feather in the cap of the town, as well as Welland Rotary,” he said. “We’re hoping to do much more work, and look at some of their other genuine needs that they have. We have the funds and we have the will.”

allan.benner@sunmedia.ca