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Officers train for fire investigation in Rankin

Fire officers from across Nunavut descended upon Rankin Inlet for a six-day course on fire investigations from Oct. 22 to 26.
Rankin Fire Chief Mark Wyatt said every member of Nunavut's Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM) attended the training facilitated by veteran Ontario trainer and fire investigator Gary Jarrett, who has about two decades of experience investigating fires within a municipal fire department.

Rankin firefighters Darren Makkigak, front, and Kelly Kabvitok put out a living-room fire during fire-investigation training in Rankin Inlet on Oct. 25, 2018. Darrell Greer/NNSL photo
Rankin firefighters Darren Makkigak, front, and Kelly Kabvitok put out a living-room fire during fire-investigation training in Rankin Inlet on Oct. 25, 2018. Darrell Greer/NNSL photo

The course covers such topics as the basics of burn pattern analysis, explosion investigations, vehicle fires, how to liaise with the OFM and other attending agencies and other related topics.

Wyatt said a number of assistant fire marshals took the course in Rankin, as did members of various departments across Nunavut.

He and George Aksadjuak participated from the Rankin department.

"The course, basically, allows us to study fire patterns and the way things burn so that we can investigate the fires and determine their causes," said Wyatt.

"Whenever a fire happens, an investigation follows to determine the cause ... whether it was incendiary, accidental or, perhaps, an act of God.

"The idea behind the investigation is to determine the cause for the insurance company and also to determine if there was a possible crime committed.
So, this is why we study all different kinds of fires."

Wyatt said the course is divided between the classroom and the field.

He said six different burn scenarios were set up for the Rankin course.

"Our fire department built the rooms inside different sea cans and then the various groups of students set up each different scenario.

"We had fire scenarios in two different bedrooms, two living rooms, an office and a truck.

"Ideally, you want at least two people in your department to be able to conduct a fire investigation."

"The course is primarily taken by officers and chiefs. We had no one below the rank of captain in the Rankin course."

Wyatt said each scenario was set up with one idea in mind, but most had a number of possibilities as to what could have caused the fire.

He said as long as each scenario burned properly, the investigators would have to do a little bit of thinking to come up with the main cause of the fire.

"We put in about 18 to 20 hours to build the rooms within the sea can," said Wyatt. "Each unit had a full room, including floor, ceiling, drywall installation – the whole bit.

"The rooms were built first, then we sourced all the furniture to be put into them and went from there," he said. "It was an excellent course delivered by a great instructor."

Michael Leduc became Nunavut's fire marshal this past May.

Leduc said the Rankin course went quite well.

He said the students were really engaged throughout the training.

"The instructors brought a lot of experience into this, so everyone on the course learned a lot about fire investigations," said Leduc.

"What you're looking at from a fire investigation perspective is that you take what happens at a fire event, you go in and figure out the origin and the cause and from there you're able to better understand how to prevent fires in the future.

"So, we use that across the territory to build our fire prevention program. As part of public education, we go into the schools and explain the dangers and concerns that are going on the community to help prevent fires in the future.

"As well, if the RCMP require assistance, then we're there to assist them with their arson investigation."

Leduc said any number of people could indicate there's something suspicious happening in connection to a fire.

Once something suspicious is noticed, the RCMP are notified immediately, he said.

"It could be a firefighter at the scene who notices something, the fire chief or one of my staff – but once someone indicates there's something suspicious, then it's immediately treated as a suspicious fire."

Leduc said his office would like to train as many people as it can across the territory in the different aspects of fire investigation.

He said, ideally, it would be great to have one or two people in each community with experience in fire-investigation training.

"My staff will come out and support that training across the board and some of the police officers in the territory have fire-investigation training, as well," said Leduc. "The volunteer firefighters in Nunavut work very hard and train on a continuous basis."

"The fire marshal's staff puts together training programs for them. They're constantly trying to improve and they work hard to get there," he added. "Our firefighters get the job done that needs to be done."