On June 22, in a first-time agreement between a municipality and a First Nation community, Sifton Reeve Cyril Druwe and Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Chief Jennifer Bone announced a joint fire services agreement. This is a mutual aid agreement between Oak Lake-Sifton Fire Department and Sioux Valley Fire Department (SVFD) for structure fires.
In an interview, Fire Chief for OL-Sifton David Houston said it could mean five or six times per year that his fire department would be called upon.
“We do have the trained crew and the equipment already there to serve our own ratepayers,” said Houston. Helping out another community would not mean additional capital expense.
There are operating expenses whenever and wherever a fire is fought.
Houston explained the cost: “If you average $1,000 per hour for a three-truck response, there’s three Grand ($3000) for the first hour, plus your manpower. If you get a major structure fire you could be looking at five or six hours.”
SVFD is going to give aid to OL-Sifton as well. SV Councilman Anthony Tacan said, “After this agreement, our guys will be more than happy to help out the neighbours. That’s how it should be working.”
At present SV has a crew of about 10 to 15 volunteers. It doesn’t matter how large or small a community is, any given fire can become overwhelming for one fire department.
The two departments will need to do some training together, and Tacan said that SVFD needs to do more training itself, as well.
“That’s something we’re going to be focusing on. We want to get everybody up to speed on First Aid, CPR, use of the equipment. We have Jaws of Life ourselves. So, we want to get the new, young members up to capacity.”
Funding for fire safety has been problematic for First Nations communities.
“Every First Nation is always lacking in fire services and funding. I think that’s got to change in the mindset. First Nation communities should be seeing an increase in fire services.”
Tacan adds that as homes on the reserves age, the potential for electrical problems increases. First Nations need to be prepared in the event of a housefire.
The Fire Services Agreement was celebrated with a program including a welcome from Chief Bone, an address by Reeve Druwe, prayer from Councilwoman Eleanor Elk, and SVDN drumming.
Manitoba’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Relations Eileen Clark spoke, saying, “The collaboration between your community of Sioux Valley and the RM of Sifton is a significant one. You are leaders in our province. You are doing something that is so necessary.”
MP Larry Maguire, Provincial NDP leader Wab Kinew and Executive Director of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) Denys Volkov each congratulated the municipalities on this achievement.
It was recognized as done “in the spirit of reconciliation.”