Nunavik grows its number of certified firefighters
“This whole project is the result of many years of diligent work by many people"
A group of 10 Nunavik firefighters are the newest to become accredited through Quebec’s training institute, bringing the region’s tally of certified firefighters to 27.
It’s still a long way until the region has 15 trained firefighters for each of its 14 communities — a goal that the Kativik Regional Government once hoped to reach by 2014, as laid out in the region’s Fire Safety Cover Plan.
But the plan is well on its way, said Craig Lingard, coordinator of civil security at the Kativik Regional Government, noting interest from more than 200 other community firefighters.
“Your best resource in any fire department is your human element,” he said.
Training firefighters became a lot easier after Nunavik’s first group of eight received their initial training in 2008, then returning in 2010 to qualify as Level 1 instructors.
That same group has been able to travel through the region to facilitate workshops in communities, while more technical parts of the training are hosted at a southern facility in Blainville, Quebec.
There, the most recent group of 10 graduates would have fought fires in simulated environments, like with “propane tree” which sprays multiple streams of flames.
They would have learned how to use and maintain proper firefighting equipment like clothing and air masks, and how to communicate with their colleagues when they can’t actually see them, Lingard said.
“You have to understand all the technical challenges of the environment you’re going into,” he said.
Firefighters in Quebec do 300 hours of training to achieve what’s called Firefighter I — a minimum standard required of all firefighters, recognized internationally.
And while firefighter training in Quebec is based on a southern model, Lingard said Nunavimmiut firefighters have adapted their skills to the North.
“The reality in Nunavik is that we don’t have fire hydrants (apart from Kuujjuaraapik) so we have to hook up to water trucks,” he said, meaning firefighters must use their water supply effectively.
One example of a benefit to firefighting in Nunavik? Firefighters usually know the layout of the homes they enter, since social housing models are so common across the region.
Perks or challenges aside, Lingard said he sees a strong commitment from the region’s firefighters — the vast majority of whom are volunteers.
Committing to become accredited shows an even stronger will to build strong fire departments, he added.
“It’s incredible dedication to complete these 300 hours [of training],” Lingard said. “This whole project is the result of many years of diligent work by many people.”
Some of Nunavik’s firefighters are lifers, he says: take KRG director Sandy Gordon, who has been volunteering for his local fire department in Kuujjuaq for more than three decades.
Lingard also sees many intergenerational firefighting families; Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau chair Michael Cameron and his son Putulik, from Salluit, have both recently been accredited.
The goal is still to train 15 firefighters per community, said Lingard, who hopes efforts will multiply each year. In 2014, the KRG will facilitate two training sessions, each one designed to host 30 people.
It doesn’t come cheap. Training the required number of firefighters in Nunavik is expected to cost $2 million, paid for with money from the KRG and the provincial department of public security.
Lingard estimates there are more than 200 firefighters throughout the region already registered for different levels of training.
“We hope to see that continually increase: the capability, the interest, and the quality of these firefighters,” he said. “It’s good to know we’ve got 27 accredited firefighters and a hundred more on the way.”