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First Nations Fire Safety in Ontario: The Role of OFNTSC and Recommendations for Improvement

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The Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC) Fire Safety service has been in place since 1995 and was created to address fire safety deficiencies that many First Nations homes and buildings experience. OFNTSC is committed to helping First Nations with assessing their fire protection plans and providing fire training and capacity building to mitigate against the loss of life and personal and community infrastructure. OFNTSC acknowledges that fire prevention and protection are essential community services that make the difference between life and death.

Fire safety for on-reserve First Nations has received significant and deserving attention over the past decade due to the increasing instances of fire-related fatalities and the loss of homes and community infrastructure. Ontario leads the country in First Nation reserve fire-related deaths,1 and the number of onreserve fire incidents and fire injuries per capita is nearly two and a half times greater than the rest of Canada.2 First Nations also experience fire-fatalities at a rate ten times higher than what is seen in the rest of country.3 Fire-related fatalities on-reserve are often preventable and can be linked to a lack of functioning smoke alarms, poor fire prevention and education, a lack of capacity, and inconsistent training of fire crews, among other things. Further complicating these challenges is that on-reserve policy regarding fire protection has often been shaped without the inclusion of First Nations peoples.

Fire safety experts advocate that fire prevention (which includes public education, inspection, and code enforcement) is foundational for fire safety.4 OFNTSC plays a critical role in fire safety and particularly fire prevention in Ontario, and as First Nations continue to experience fire safety issues, it is essential that fire safety is prioritized, culturally sensitive, and delivered by and for First Nations consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The following paper will explore OFNTSC’s fire safety program, and the issue of fire safety more broadly, within the context of Ontario. This will include an overview and analysis of federal fire safety policies as they relate to on-reserve First Nations, challenges faced by First Nations and opportunities to improve fire safety on-reserve. It will explore best practices in fire safety and will make recommendations geared towards improved fire safety on reserve.

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