02.19.2015 09:17 AM

The Loon Lake fire

I don’t get truly outraged very often, but this story truly outrages me. It should outrage you, too.

LOON LAKE, Sask. The volunteer fire chief in a Saskatchewan village says a neighbouring First Nation that lost two children in a house fire cancelled its firefighting contract with the community.

Larry Heon, who is also the mayor of Loon Lake, says he was sleeping when he got a 911 call automatically routed to him at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday about the blaze on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan reserve.

“But we didn’t go,” said Heon.

The children were two and 18 months. They died at the scene.

Or, perhaps, they were killed – by the stupidity and indifference of unknown others.

I first learned about this horror on CBC Radio, when Niki Ashton raised it in the House. She was understandably emotional about what has happened.

This story needs to be better-known – and we need to know how such a thing could happen. You can contact Ashton here.

43 Comments

  1. Lynn says:

    Warren,
    I could not believe it either. A bill for three thousand not paid so no service, three thousand lousy dollars so they refuse to go to a house on fire. The only reason I can imagine is: Trying to teach those deadbeats a lesson. They showed them what happens if you do not pay. He is protecting the interests of his town. I can hear it now.

    How about just petty, disgusting, inhumane, possibly racist, and hopefully actionable.

    These fine civic leaders should be charged with manslaughter. Can this be considered criminal or actionable in some way?

    We are all human beings and to deny service to people down the road as their home burns seems kind of criminal to me. How do these “leaders” live with themselves? How could they look at their children or grandchildren ever again, KNOWING that they denied help to a family whose house was on fire and as a result two little kids died. It is horrifying and makes we wonder yet again, wtf is wrong with so many people? Oh, yeah …the money…

  2. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    How can this still be happening in 2015? Why isn’t someone responsible to make sure fire services already rendered are paid in full? Why does the First Nation claim AA only provides enough money for fire detectors and fire prevention courses? Why does Ottawa say they are paying boat loads of money — seemingly without good federal management, oversight and accountability?

    How many more needless tragedies lie ahead?

  3. Don McGowan says:

    I am thoroughly disgusted by these tragic events and even more so by the Minister Valcourt’s response in the House. As a caring and compasionate society, how can we allow events like this to happen? We absolutely have to do the right thing for Aboriginal Canadians! If this tragic event had happened anywhere in Canada other than a Reserve, those person’s responsible for choosing not to respond to the Emergency Services call – would be held accountable. Shame on our Government! Shame on Minister Valcourt! Shame on those that continue to support his party!

  4. smelter rat says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen, the Conservative Party of Canada: Canada’s Aboriginal Affairs minister accused the opposition of trying to “score cheap political points” after an NDP MP said a lack of federal funding was to blame for a fire that killed two aboriginal children in Saskatchewan.

  5. Kelly says:

    In conservative Canada it’s all about the market. You don’t pay, you die.

    A similar thing happened in rural Tennessee a few years ago. County fire services were privatized and homeowners had to pay a subscription fee directly to the fire company, instead of the services being provided through general revenue for the common good. When a fire broke out and the fire department was called, the house on fire was not “covered”. The fire truck hosed down the neighbours houses to protect them while the original house burnt to the ground.

    This sort of thing is just madness.

    Is health care next?

  6. Kevin T. says:

    I wonder how Mayor Heon sleeps now?

    • Zing says:

      Hey Kevin, how many house fires have you doused this year, in your spare/volunteer time?

      None? Well how do you sleep? Will you be heading to this FN community now that you know they are in need of volunteer fire service?

      These remote communities rely on volunteer manpower, and on financial contributions to pay for out of pocket costs associated with fire services. A model that obviously can’t be sustained by providing service to people who don’t pay. The FN community should have had fire service…and the background of why they didn’t are valid points of discussion. But condemning a volunteer fire fighter for not working even more hours than he already does, for free, this is a bit much. You go there and work for free.

      • Kevin T. says:

        What have you done to be so self-righteous? I take it you donate your time and or money. I don’t have time anymore with the family I have, but I donate in Canada and sponsor children internationally because my kids don’t have to worry about burning to death in the middle of nowhere, because they don’t go to bed hungry and because they don’t have tarp and plywood as part of their shelter.
        Congrats on justifying the death of two children on fees.

  7. Joe says:

    I’m getting a bit of a chuckle here reading all the ‘low expectation’ comments condemning the Loon Lake fire department. Having visited a very large number of First Nations across western Canada I can say that there is a lot of problems in the reserve government structure. I’ve seen the chief living in luxury while others live in abject poverty. The impoverished are impoverished because the chief has spent the money on his/her luxuries. Personally I would like to know who didn’t pay the bill. I don’t get phone service if I don’t pay the bill and even if I am in an emergency situation the phone doesn’t work unless I pay the bill. My house will get awful cold if I don’t pay the electrical bill or the gas bill. I don’t have any water if I don’t pay the water bill. Don’t quite get the reason we should be blaming the unpaid fire department when the reserve had the money to pay the bill but chose not to. BTW those who want to play partisan politics with this by blaming Harper – kiss off. The local people in charge have likely been there since Chretien was in power and he is not responsible either. The only lesson here is – next time pay the damn bill when it is due or else find another way to provide the service.

    • Bill MacLeod says:

      I have to agree with you, and I guess, by implication, with the government minister responding to Ms. Ashton’s comments.

      Loon Lake, a village, has a population of 400. The First Nation has a population of 800. Why is the former responsible for providing fire services to the latter when:

      a) The FN said it received over $50,000 for fire suppression activities in fiscal 2014,
      b) The Loon Lake FD is a volunteer service,
      c) The FN reportedly has a fire truck of its own,
      d) The FN chief is paid $80,000 per year and his six councillors receive $63,000 per year. And, by the way, now that I look at it, why are they each claiming over 20K per year in travel expenses and between 4K and 6K in “cell phone allowance”? Per year. Each.

      I have to say, if I were the fire chief or any of his volunteer crew, I would be plenty pissed right about now.

      Wouldn’t you?

      Regards,

      Bill

    • Robert Jago says:

      I can’t agree with you more Joe. If there’s one thing burning children need, it’s a lesson on fiscal responsibility. And really what’s the difference between your phone bill and burning children? I mean your phone bill doesn’t melt from its bones while screaming for help, but besides that, they’re basically the same thing.

      At the end of the day, isn’t this what our society is all about? I mean if those children didn’t want to die in a fire, then in a year or so when they learned how to talk, they should have crawled to their band council office and demanded accountability. Because as every responsible person knows, there are only ever 2 options in any given situation. No bill payment = no service.

      Are you a business person, Joe? I am, and if I took that approach, I’d be broke. You know what you do if a client doesn’t pay on time – when you’re their sole possible provider? You raise the price, you charge their end user, you hire collections people, you go talk to them in person, you make a phone call, you set up a payment arrangement, you threaten penalties, you give them alternate means to pay, etc. etc. etc. but you don’t just randomly cut them off. No one does that except maybe Rogers or Bell. Also, no government pays bills on time – I deal with public bodies all the time and you chase them for months for bills. These are huge agencies and these are tiny bills – they get lost in the shuffle. Case in point: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/joe-oliver-s-unpaid-hotel-bill-caused-departmental-headache-1.2958602

      And you know what you do when you hear someone screaming for help? Unless you’re a sociopath, you go and help them. You talk about low expectations, the very lowest expectation of a citizen is that they answer their neighbour’s call for help. Do you understand that when you “chuckle”, you’re talking about a baby who was burned alive? I don’t understand people, I get that most Canadians hate natives, but surely they must have some sense of us, or at least our children, as actual human beings – but then you read the comments online, not just Joe’s or Bill’s but any one on the Toronto Sun’s comment page or even the CBC’s and you see that they really really don’t.

      • Joe says:

        I think you missed the point here Robert. There is no sole provider involved. The First Nation has the equipment to fight the fire and didn’t. Instead it called on the non-first nation fire department which it failed to pay for past services.

        Now maybe in your business experience you carried dead beats but when I was in business I made sure I was paid. If I wasn’t paid, the dead beat didn’t get anymore of my goods or services. I didn’t have the money to carry everyone else’s needs wants or wishes. BTW since I got out of business and into the ‘charity industry’ I have often counselled people who have lost their phone service or their electricity has been shut off or their gas has been shut off when they have not paid their bill.

        When I was a young man I was a volunteer fire fighter. I spent time away from my family while I underwent training. I attended car crashes, house fires, grass fires etc and when I did I was paid for my time. The owner or insurance company would get a bill from the town for fire services rendered. Also the town bought and maintained a firetruck. It cost the town money every time we rolled out of the fire hall whether it was our weekly training run or a real emergency. SOMEBODY has to pay the bill. If the bill isn’t paid then EVERYONE loses. As tragic as it is that two young children lost their lives it is time to put the blame squarely where it belongs and that is on the first nation that would not establish its own fire department despite having been given a fire truck and then bummed fire protection from its poorer neighbours fully intending to never pay for services rendered.

        BTW where the h*ll were the adults (parents) when the house caught fire and burned to the ground? I believe that we are all created equal and we all share the same responsibilities when it comes to looking after our vulnerable. That’s why I don’t bother trying to be outraged that the village fire department didn’t respond. Those whose community suffered the loss are the only ones responsible unless and until the disaster is so overwhelming that the locals can not cope. Failing to pay the bill is not indicative of not being able to cope.

        • Robert Jago says:

          There’s a thing called ‘being smart on the internet’ where you look up a fact, then I look up three facts, then you look up four, and we both act like we’re expert counsel for the opposing parties. I don’t see a point to that. You don’t know every detail about it, and neither do I. What we do know is what is right and what is wrong.

          Here’s the issue as I see it – a person from a neighbouring town calls 911, it gets routed to this man’s phone, and he says sorry, and goes back to sleep. If there’s an agreement or not, if there’s a bill or not, I think it’s irrelevant. These are neighbours, they’re in immediate danger, and the fire chief had the power to help them – maybe even save them – and didn’t. The people on the phone aren’t “Indians” or wards of the chief or any classifiable political or ethnic group, they’re not in a place where blame matters, they’re individual human beings who need help. If you consider yourself to be a good person, I think you have a duty to do something about that call. Is the fire chief legally in the wrong? I don’t know, I’d doubt it. But that doesn’t make him right. Now if you were that fire chief, as a man, could you honestly say that the *right* thing to do at that moment would be to say ‘sorry, I can’t help you’, and hang up?

  8. Barbara Lewis says:

    If, and this is a big if, these two children had died unattended in downtown Edmonton, shouldn’t the first question be where were the adults? Who was supervising these children? Why were they alone? Isn’t some adult somehow a little bit responsible for the care of these two children? What effort was made to save the children? I would have been somewhat comforted if it was known that adults in the area were injured trying to save these kids.

    Something is screwy here,

    • Mclind says:

      I am also wondering seriously where the persons in charge of these children were. There has been absolutely no mention of anyone with them. This fact and this alone makes them responsible.
      Also how many times did the volunteer Fire Department fight fire on the reserve without being remimbursed of their actions. These men risk their lives and the Department does not survive on non payments or donations .

  9. cgh says:

    This particular event is a travesty, on several levels. First, did Niki Ashton know that the federal government provided funding specifically for fire protection? Second, did she know that the reserve in question had not paid any of its fire protection bills despite 1. funding being provided for it, and 2. that apparently none of its fire protection bills had been paid despite its contractual obligation to do so with the department to which it contracted its fire protection? Third, did she know that the reserve had been informed that the fire department would not be honouring 911 calls from the reserve until payment had been made?

    If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” then Niki Ashton looks somewhat like a cynical liar in seeking to deflect blame from the reserve government where it belongs to tub-thumping up a charge of federal government funding shortfalls. If the answer to these questions is “no”, then Ms. Ashton is an ignorant fool too eager to play the partisan politics of waving the bloody shirt.

    The second travesty is this. The reserve chief interviewed on television claimed to know nothing about unpaid bills. He implied strongly that he knew nothing about federal money provided specifically for things like fire protection.

    We’ve all seen innumerable responses in the past like this from politicians. Is he lying? They always lie when their hands are caught in the cookie jar. This is precisely why 1st Nations books need to be audited just as they are for any federal, provincial or municipal government in Canada. In the absence of auditing, the possibility becomes enormous that the reserve funds for fire protection were “allocated” elsewhere.

    There are some in the comment thread here complaining that the community should have been provided with assistance anyway. What drivel. It shows a glaring ignorance of fire protection schemes. Any department doing such would not have backup for its own jurisdiction. If a fire broke out in its own area of jurisdiction, the fire department would be blamed and rightly so for neglecting its own citizens if it was away on a call from a defaulting municipality.

    • Africon says:

      Well said, those are the obvious questions that need to be answered.

      The FN folks and their supporters cannot have it both ways.
      They want to be regarded as independent self ruled Nations but do not wish to have their management of Federal funding audited by the Feds.
      Many on the left support this view but when things go wrong are quick to blame the Feds for not micromanaging the FN’s in order to prevent tragedies like this.

      The “progressives” sing a great song about income equality but in practice prefer to look the other way when it comes to corruption of FN leadership or African dictators. That willful blindness has cost millions of lives – each life just as tragic as these two toddlers.

  10. Steve T says:

    Just so I have the facts straight, let’s summarize:

    1. The Loon Lake First Nation received funding for fire prevention measures.
    2. Loon Lake made a decision of its own free will to enter into a legal contract with a neighboring community for fire department services.
    3. Loon Lake failed to pay its bills, and was advised in writing nearly three weeks ago that the services were no longer under contract due to failure to pay.
    4. Loon Lake did nothing in the ensuing 3 weeks to mitigate the lack of fire services.
    5. A tragic fire occurred, and no one responded because there were no fire services for this community.
    6. The chief of Loon Lake, and the national Chief, and a variety of MPs, are now attempting to shift the blame onto others for this tragedy.
    7. Any suggestion that any of this might be due to mismanagement of Loon Lake is met with the inevitable “racist” rebuttal, effectively silencing any critics.

    This would be pathetic, if it weren’t so tragic.

  11. Matt says:

    To your second point, the chief was on CTV news yesterday claiming the federal money for fire services/fire protection had been spent “fire proofing SOME homes” Is he now claiming he didn’t know about any fire protection money from the feds?

    Oh, and the outstanding bill was paid today.

  12. Derek Pearce says:

    1) Can’t the VFD provide the service anyway and then sue later for unpaid bills, including court costs?
    2) Can’t the feds just cut a yearly check directly to the VFD and bypass the band council so as to avoid this dispute in future?

    • cgh says:

      Derek:
      1) No. To cover Loon Lake, the VFD requires additional personnel and equipment beyond what it needs for its own community. This has to be paid for immediately. So if such a situation were to occur, VFD would be entrusting the future of their department to the successful outcome of some future lawsuit. The taxpayers currently supporting the VFD would be rightly agitated that another community was freeloading on them and insist that the VFD desist until such time as Loon Lake paid up. Fire protection is not a charity. It’s serious business, costs real money and lots of it. It’s like insurance: no one’s going to give you coverage on a policy you never paid for after the fact of an accident.

      2) No. Loon Lake would rightly complain about being shorted for fire protection measures and that the feds were publicly labeling them as an incompetent government. The fact that Loon Lake IS incompetent is another matter entirely. There is no legal basis on which you can discriminate against one community in the interests of another in the provision of public funds.

      It’s like the Walkerton water contamination scandal of years back. You can have all the standards and funding in place, but there’s little real protection against having utter idiots running the system, as appears to be the case with Loon Lake and as was the case with Walkerton.

  13. Joe says:

    You know Scott you come across as a bigot. It seems you have low expectations of a people of a different skin tone. In your point of view those poor brown folk just can’t look after themselves so we privileged white folks will have to look after them. What a load of hooey. Everyone regardless of colour or whats between their legs is equal. The brown folks need to pay their bills just like the white folks. The brown folks need to make sure their kids are looked after just like the white folks skin colour or ancestry be damned. Two children are dead because some limousine liberal looked down his/her nose at the little brown folk and decided that the brown folk should never be held responsible for any misfortune that should befall them. And the beat goes on.

    Here’s a better solution hold the chief accountable for the deaths. Hold the parents accountable for the deaths. Stop being a racist and let the brown folk be just as responsible as EVERYONE else

    • Irene says:

      What a disgusting group of Cons on these forums. Bill paid or not. The reality is that two innocent children lost their lives over a $95.00 bill unpaid.

      Goes to show us how inept the Harper government really is.

  14. Matt says:

    1) If they wouldn’t pay a $3000 bill, what makes you think they’d pay that plus court costs after losing a court case?

    2) If the feds bypassed the band council and gave money directly to the FD, you know there would be professional protesters in the native community like Pam Palmeter complaining.

    I was with a volunteer FD in Eastern Ontario for three years. Denial of service for unpaid bills/fines is pretty common. Having said that, if we had a call of a working fire, we always responded to ensure no people were at risk.

    Example: A call for a car/garage fire came in. It was a guy who had several hundred dollars in fines owing for false alarms at his business. We arrived on scene. It was a detatched “garage” (more a barn he kept his classic car in) Once the Chief was satisfied no people were in there, he ordered us into defensive position. In other words, ensure the fire doesn’t spread, but let the barn burn.

  15. Mark says:

    It is truly sad that two children perished in the fire but before anyone forms a lynch mob for the Chief of the Loon Lake FD maybe everyone should learn the facts. What was the time between the start of the fire and when the father attempted to rescue the kids but sadly was unsuccessful. Then look at what the response time of the Loon Lake FD would have been. I have been in a fire and I can tell you once it gets going you have minutes to get out, the smoke will kill you long before the fire gets to you.

    This tragedy would most likely have occurred regardless of if the Loon Lake FD had responded or if the reserve had a volunteer fire department of their own.

    On a related note there are a lot more questions that need answered as to why the reserve had a fire truck but no crew to man it, or no hoses to fit the hydrants and couldn’t afford to pay a $3000.00 bill. Any community with a 7 person governing council that gets paid approximately $750,000 should be able to pay their bills.

  16. smelter rat says:

    Kids shouldn’t die just because the grown ups are fucked up.

  17. Paul Pospisil says:

    If you look back I am willing to bet the First Nation assisted when the new fire hall was built, which would make them a partner! Seems to me I recall the First Nation the Municipality and the village all put up some cash!
    Regardless of the outcome of the fire, the only thing to discuss is the non attendance of the fire department a cold and callous decision of the chief.
    Hiding behind a letter seems like an excuse for not acting responsibly!

  18. clayton says:

    I was on a volunteer fire department for years and if the fire department doesn’t have a written and signed contract with a neibouring town or RM or reserve or whatever they have no insurance on their equipment or their men if they leave their home town and go out to fight a fire else where. I don’t blame Loon Lake one bit for not going out.

  19. don says:

    I agree totally with Joe’s view of this whole issue, he has exposed it for what it is. Anyone who is in a position of handing public funds has to be accountable to the people they represent for the money that is spent and where it is spent. In this case the First Nations council should be held liable for what appears to be corruption .
    My wife and I have a close friend who is Native and you will find no one more critical of the majority of First Nations people than what she is.

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