Nunavummiut are no strangers to community spirit and working together to get things done. This is exemplified in Nunavut’s cadre of firefighters, a great many of whom are volunteers.

It was a group of dedicated volunteers that responded to the fire in Iglulik that ravaged the Co-op in January, working heroically in the bitter cold for 12 hours before help arrived from the capital.

Local Rangers assisted with crowd control as a growing number of residents arrived at the scene.

Firefighters flew in from Iqaluit to assist in controlling the fire — a continued example of co-operation between communities, as in 2018 when firefighters from Kinngait and Pangnirtung came to Iqaluit when the NorthMart warehouse was fully engulfed in flames.

Iglulik has only a single fire engine — a 1999 model — the municipality’s four water trucks were also pressed into service during that incident. The vehicle froze while responding to the fire around 2 p.m., unable to withstand the -40 C temperatures.

That fire truck is due to be replaced in 2022, a little past the Office of the Fire Marshal’s stated life expectancy of 20 years for such emergency vehicles in Nunavut. The office has released a replacement schedule, from 2020 to 2028, at a rate of two vehicles per year for community fire trucks across Nunavut “based primarily on age and condition.”

Grassroots operations are the backbone of many successful Nunavut organizations, and emergency services are unfortunately no exception.

Mark Wyatt, fire chief in Rankin Inlet, said last year that his department reached the point where it was fundraising about $200,000 per year, raising more than $500,000 under his watch.

Those funds went toward things like uniforms for all members, building garages, and replacing equipment that the Office of the Fire Marshal couldn’t supply.

“Anything, equipment-wise, that we can’t get from the Office of the Fire Marshal we buy ourselves,” Wyatt said. “We’re going to start raising money to go towards an aerial truck. Our original fire marshal said there’s no way we’re ever going to get a ladder truck in Rankin, yet we have three-storey buildings here that you wouldn’t even be allowed to build down south without the proper fire protection.”

That particular piece of equipment will run the community $650,000 to $1 million.

Still, Wyatt had nothing but praise to offer his team, with everyone in the department working toward common goals.

Rankin Inlet also opened a new fire training facility last year, with plans to offer courses from the Office of the Fire Marshal and to develop advanced live-fire courses to better prepare firefighters across the territory for the sorts of structure fires they may encounter.

This is of great benefit to the entire territory. To be able to offer this level of training without having to go down south is an achievement that will empower anyone interested in learning such a vital trade.

And let’s not forget that our first responders are often the first to lend a helping hand in keeping community spirits high, leading parades throughout the pandemic for birthdays and other special events, creating outdoor rinks and working hard to make a difference wherever they can.

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