New Study Shows that Indigenous Peoples Across Canada are Between 5 and 17 Times More Likely to Die in a Fire Compared to the Rest of the Population
New Study on mortality and morbidity related to fire, burns, and carbon monoxide poisoning among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit in Canada
Indigenous Peoples are over five times more likely to die in a fire. That number increases to over 10 times for First Nations people living on reserves. Inuit are over 17 times more likely to die in a fire than non-Indigenous people. Rates among Métis were higher than non-Indigenous estimates (2.1), but these rates were not significantly different.
A new Statistics Canada study, commissioned by The National Indigenous Fire Safety Council (NIFSC) Project and funded by Indigenous Services Canada, shows a bleak picture of mortality and morbidity related to fire, burns and carbon monoxide poisoning among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit in Canada.
The mortality and morbidity rates provided by the new Statistics Canada report are grim but underscore the vision for the National Indigenous Fire Safety Council.
Why is fire and life safety a concern in Indigenous communities?
The jurisdiction of fire protection is an issue for Indigenous peoples. There is no national fire protection code that mandates fire safety standards or enforcement on reserves. All other jurisdictions in Canada including provinces, territories, and other federal jurisdictions (such as military bases, airports, and seaports) have established building and fire codes. The Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada (AFAC), NIFSC’s parent organization, supports the development of a national First Nations Fire Protection Act and is willing to work with First Nations leadership as a technical resource.
In the absence of legislation act or regulations, AFAC and the NIFSC are addressing identified gaps to improve fire safety in Indigenous communities by supporting them in creating fire safety standards, doing fire protection and response research, and establishing fire safety bylaws and building standards.
Currently, the work of AFAC and the NIFSC is focused on First Nations populations living on reserves. For more details, please refer to our inclusivity statement.
Why is this new study important?
Prior to this new research, there existed a large gap in fire incident reporting in Indigenous communities: there was no meaningful data that outlined the number of deaths and injuries that occur in Indigenous communities due to fire-related incidents. To determine the degree of severity of the fire-related mortality and morbidity related to fire, burns and carbon monoxide poisoning among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit, the NIFSC Project commissioned Statistics Canada to identify the mortality and morbidity rates for all Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
What are the results of the mortality and morbidity study?
Indigenous Peoples across Canada are over 5 times more likely to die in a fire compared to the rest of the population. That number increases to over 10 times for First Nations people living on reserve. Inuit are over 17 times more likely to die in a fire than non-Indigenous people. Rates among Métis were higher than non-Indigenous estimates (2.1), but these rates were not significantly different.
Fire-related injuries resulting in hospitalization are also disproportionate to Indigenous Peoples. First Nations people are over 4 times more likely, Métis are over 1.5 times more likely, and Inuit are over 5 times more likely than non-Indigenous people to be hospitalized due to fire-related injuries.
What has led to this situation?
Many social determinants contribute to the higher fire-related mortality among Indigenous Peoples. These include poverty, inadequate housing conditions, housing without smoke alarms, and more.
Core capital funding provided by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), which includes funding for fire protection, is flexible. This means community leadership can use designated fire protection funds if the community has more immediate or pressing needs (e.g., a school needing repairs or social housing maintenance). Without a fire protection mandate or regulatory maintenance of fire protection standards for Indigenous communities, fire services and fire and life safety can be deprioritized or forgotten. For more information please visit the ISC website.
Moving Forward: How the NIFSC Project will help Indigenous Communities
To address the complexities in the areas of fire and life safety, the NIFSC Project is offering culturally sensitive and relevant fire and life safety training and education programs that are created for and delivered by Indigenous Peoples. These services are available to First Nations populations living on reserve, leadership, and individuals working or volunteering in emergency services.
The NIFSC Project has launched close to 80 programs and services that provide training and ongoing support to more than 600 First Nations communities in Canada. Programs include education, support, and training in the areas of community fire safety, community governance support, community infrastructure and engineering support, fire department management, fire investigation services, and fire department operations.
Training, education programs and services being offered by the NIFSC Project have not previously been available to First Nations communities, whereas they have been available in most other communities in Canada. Currently, the work of AFAC and the NIFSC is focused on First Nations populations living on reserve. For more details, please refer to our inclusivity statement.
The Project’s goal is to provide hands-on capacity building through training and education to help build skills and knowledge for fire and life safety measures within Indigenous communities and amongst Indigenous leadership.
One area in which the NIFSC Project is working to improve fire-related mortality and morbidity amongst Indigenous Peoples is through more accurate data collection. The creation of the National Incident Reporting System (NIRS) will, over time, provide the data regarding fire incidents in Indigenous communities that has been missing. We are encouraging Indigenous communities to report fire incidents through the NIRS as they occur. This will help support long-term decision making. By understanding how and why fires occur, we can direct our attention to the root causes of fires in Indigenous communities to prevent future fires, injuries, and loss of life.
By providing fire and life safety services we anticipate a sharp decline in the mortality and morbidity rates outlined above, and that fire-related mortality and morbidity rates will begin to align with that of the general population.