Back in March, the Hamilton Fire Department sought approval to donate a pair of surplus fire trucks to two First Nations' communities.
After receiving that approval in April, Couchiching and Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nations each were presented with a 1997 Freightliner 1,350-gallon tanker truck last Thursday.
The donations were made after an announcement from the Ontario Chief Coroner of an investigation into the nearly 60 deaths in indigenous communities caused by residential fires in just over 10 years.
Hamilton Fire Chief Dave Cunliffe and Deputy Fire Chief Randy Moss, as well as Hamilton Fire CMO Brian Keenan and Shylo Elmayan, senior project manager of urban indigenous strategy for the City of Hamilton, were on hand to deliver the trucks and visit with the communities.
The group first arrived at Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation just before lunch time, then went to Couchiching First Nation with the second truck later that afternoon.
Nigigoonsiminikaaning Chief Will Windego said the new tanker truck was a breath of fresh air as the community's previous truck was an early 1980s model and it was becoming harder to keep up with maintenance.
The donated trucks had hit their 20-year life cycles, meaning they now were considered surplus vehicles to the Hamilton Fire Department.
But even though the trucks no longer are suitable for city use, they can provide many more years of service to a smaller community.
“I looked at the details of the truck," said Chief Windego. ”To me, it's still pretty fresh.
"When it comes to mileage . . . the way it looks—it's in excellent shape
“That's a huge upgrade for us; something that's really needed,” he added.
Trudy Jones a volunteer firefighter with the Nigigoonsiminikaaning department for about 15 years, was very excited to see the truck as their older pumper truck recently had suffered a crack in the tank.
As well, the new tanker truck delivery came with an hour's worth of training by the Hamilton Fire Department—something they haven't had in some time.
“I'm so happy and just tingling," enthused Jones. ”I can't wait to get the training going.
“This is going to be the first training that we've done in at least five years,” she noted.
At the Couchiching fire hall, Christine Jourdain, the band's economic development officer and deputy fire chief, expressed excitement and gratitude about the donation.
“You guys have greatly enhanced our area with this fire truck,” she remarked.
“We are extremely grateful for that because it's something we couldn't afford.”
Jourdain also cited one of the biggest concerns when it comes to emergencies in the area—the railroad tracks.
In the event of an emergency on the other side of the tracks from the fire hall, if a train were passing through, too many precious minutes would go by before the area would clear.
Now, one of the trucks will be sitting on the other side of the tracks in case that scenario ever unfolds.
“My dad's ecstatic about it, knowing that we will have a wonderful truck on the other side of the tracks,” noted Jourdain.
"If we have a train go by and we can't get there, we have three [firefighters], at least, that live on that side.
“They can take the truck out and do the fire for us until we get there,” she explained.
Glenn Jourdain, Christine's father, and Eugene McPherson, started the Couchiching fire department back in 1974. Its first firefighting vehicle was a half-ton Fargo pickup truck fitted with a 300-gallon tank.
“When you filled up that 300-gallon tank, the axle bowed and the wheels almost flattened in a two-wheel-drive truck,” Jourdain recalled.
“So that wasn't good.”
They eventually purchased a 1953 pumper truck in Winnipeg but tank was small and the pump was slow.
Jourdain said he's very happy to see the 1,350-gallon tanker.
“You can never have enough water on a fire," he stressed. "We ran out in our time.”
The Hamilton Fire Department has donated surplus apparatus in the past.
After the fire in Lac-Megantic, Que., and upon hearing the community had lost its aerial unit, Cunliffe said the department donated an aerial unit that recently had been switched to surplus status.
“Our [city] council has instructed us that where we have the opportunity to, moving forward, where we have an apparatus that comes available that would be of value to a community, to take a look at those opportunities to donate,” he noted.
“So we wanted to do that and we'll continue to do that as we move forward because . . . it's extremely important to the First Nations' communities to get this type of help,” Cunliffe stressed.
“From our perspective, from a city perspective and from our council perspective, it's really important, where we can, to provide that kind of support,” he said.