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Fighting fires at home, for home

Jimmy Nuna (centre) and Daniel Rich (right) prepare a propane valve at the SERT facility in Stephenville.


By Julie Fitzpatrick
Special to the Gazette

The Marine Institute's (MI) Safety and Emergency Response Training (SERT) Centre is celebrating the success of its special firefighting training program in Sheshatshiu, Labrador.

MI, through its SERT Centre in Stephenville, partnered with the Labrador Aboriginal Training Partnership (LATP) to launch the specialized firefighting training program in Sheshatshiu in June 2010. The intent of the program was to build upon the firefighting capacity that already existed in the town and provide the necessary training to enable members of the Innu Nation to compete for jobs in the firefighting industry.

Through classroom and practical training the program did just that, graduating 16 firefighters capable of providing first-class firefighting and emergency response training this past November. The community of Sheshatshiu now has its own fire department, complete with a new building and a new fire truck.
Tragically, fires within the northern community have claimed several lives in recent years. It was that tragedy, in part, that fuelled firefighting initiatives.

"For years our community has been at risk without the benefit of adequate fire services and as a result we have lost far too many of our members to tragic fires," said Innu Band Council Chief Sebastian Benuen. "Today we can see a future where our fire services . . . will be able to ensure the safety of our community and our members."

SERT representatives initially travelled to the community to give information sessions and presentations on what they could offer. They not only offered the people of Sheshatshiu a customized training program, but also committed to work with them to establish a permanent fire department within the community.
The instructors then travelled in teams of three to Sheshatshiu to deliver the training, staying in the community for three weeks at a time.

"MI was a natural fit to offer this specialized program as this particular training can easily be taken on the road and delivered in the community," said Craig Harnum, manager, SERT Centre. "Our instructors really enjoyed it. They got to know the people of Sheshatshiu personally. If given the opportunity, many would go back in a heartbeat. It's been a learning experience for everyone involved."

The 27-week firefighting training program included a series of courses, covering topics such as advanced first aid, hazardous materials identification, vehicle extrication and advanced firefighting techniques. The majority of the program was completed in Sheshatshiu. However, due to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requirements and the need for specialized equipment to carry out live fire training, the final five weeks of the program were delivered at the SERT Centre in Stephenville.

Financial support for the training was provided by the Labrador Aboriginal Training Partnership (LAPT), a non-profit organization funded through the federal Aboriginal Skills Employment Partnership (ASEP) funding program. LATP is a partnership of Labrador's three Aboriginal groups (Innu Nation, Nunatsiavut Government and NunatuKuvut, formerly the Labrador Metis Nation), Nalcor Energy-Lower Churchill Project and the federal and provincial governments.