Buckland Fire cutting off Sturgeon Lake service

Jodi Schellenberg
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Although the Buckland Fire Department doesn’t want to refuse service to anyone, recent events have forced their hands.

Jim Miller, Buckland Fire Department chief, said the department will no longer be providing service to Sturgeon Lake First Nation due to unpaid bills.

The Buckland Fire Department is cutting off services to the Sturgeon Lake First Nation due to unpaid bills.

“From 2013, the work that we have done on the First Nations, there were three they were billed for that we haven’t been paid, three different times in the fire service we responded and they were not charged,” Buckland fire Chief Jim Miller said. “When we contacted them, (they) said there wasn’t a contract there so it wasn’t something they needed to pay.”

In 2013, Buckland Fire responded to 32 calls at the First Nation and they owe the fire department $8,000.

Miller said they charge $800 per hour, per unit for every call in their area, plus an additional $45 for extra men.

When Buckland Fire told Sturgeon Lake the services would be cut off at the end of January, the First Nation started talking with the department to come to an agreement.

“They came to a couple meetings and were supposed to do the contract,” Miller said. “We gave them the information about what we would need as a service provider in the contract and it never really went on from there. The contract wasn’t done by them and we still haven’t gotten any money.”

The fire department was also told they would be paid by the end of April, Miller said, but have not seen any money yet.

“We are going to, when this is released to the public, our services are temporarily going to be terminated for the fire services,” Miller said. “Anything doing with the fire service could be a fire involving a house, a car/vehicle type fire, a grass fire and a forest fire.”

Although he doesn’t want to see any community without fire service, it was a necessity for the department to cut service to the First Nation.

“There are a number of First Nations here that do not have fire service -- or there may be fire service there but I don’t know if you could call it reliable fire service,” Miller said.

Sturgeon Lake does have its own fire service, but it is not a reliable service with dedicated volunteers.

“It is kind of a serious matter, as we can see from the Pelican Narrows (incident),” Miller said. 

“The thing that kind of bothers me is when there isn’t any service and you do have a fatality that is in the house, it does have to be there for a long length of time to get them out without fire suppression,” he added. “I don’t think that is right -- it is not right for the family, it is not right for the community.”

Miller said he would like to see the issue resolved so they can provide service to Sturgeon Lake First Nation.

“We were doing it to the 11th hour we were trying,” Miller said. “What is the point of us being here if we can’t go out and help the community? It is no different than any other community.”

Buckland Fire Department provides service to the entire RM of Buckland and will continue to provide service to the Wahpaten First Nation, since they have an agreement there.

Miller said there are at least four First Nations in the area that do not have a fire service.

“To make things happen you have to work as a team -- it is a federal government jurisdiction,” Miller said.

He would like to see more communities working with local departments to provide service, to avoid any tragedies.

“If the First Nation or whatever community can’t provide the service, the most cost effective is if you do have a fire department that is the closest fire department to them and just contract them because the only time you are paying them is when they are actually providing a service,” Miller said.

“You are not paying anything for the resources, you are not paying anything for the manpower on standby, you are not paying for training,” he added. “It is just to pay them for what they do and they are very proud to do what they can.”

Buckland Fire is a private department, run by a board of directors, but most of the other fire departments in the area are municipally owned.

“It is difficult to go out of the municipality with your resources and the taxpaying people are paying to have their own resources to protect themselves,” Miller explained. “If you are 15 miles away, you are not doing that. At least if you are getting paid when you go out, you can justify doing it, but when you aren’t getting paid, it doesn’t work.”

He hopes to see something work out with Sturgeon Lake in the near future.

“If everyone works as a team, there is going to be money that is available that will pay the small amount that is needed to have the departments do this,” Miller said.

The Daily Herald spoke with someone at Sturgeon Lake First Nations but the call was not returned.

Organizations: Sturgeon Lake First Nations, Buckland Fire Department, Daily Herald

Geographic location: Sturgeon Lake, Pelican Narrows

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