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‘They will always be welcome at our fire house’

When the Iqaluit NorthMart warehouse went up in flames in November, threatening the adjoining store, it taxed the full resources of the Iqaluit Fire Department to control of the intense blaze.

Smoke billows from the Iqaluit Northmart warehouse on Nov. 8. Sixteen Iqaluit firefighters battled the blaze. They received support from eight Pangnirtung firefighters, six more from Cape Dorset and five from the Office of the Fire Marshal. NNSL file photo

Nunavut Emergency Management, a branch of the GN, made inquiries to other communities to determine if help was available.

Pangnirtung and Cape Dorset answered those calls. Pangnirtung sent eight firefighters, Cape Dorset spared six.

Mathew Nauyuq was one of the Pangnirtung firefighters whose pager sounded the morning of Nov. 8. He learned that Iqaluit's fire department needed relief and he was willing to go, but thoughts of his family and his fellow firefighters permeated his mind.

"It makes me nervous at times not knowing what we are getting into. When I am going out the door, I want to come back home to my wife, nine-year-old daughter and two-year-old son," Nauyuq said. "I also worry about the safety of each firefighter who are responding, hoping they also make it back home to their family – as well worry about the safety of the public."

Despite those uncertainties, he and his seven colleagues boarded a plane at 11 a.m. As they approached Iqaluit, they could see the smoke and flames from the air, giving them a real-life view of what some of them had watched on social media hours earlier.

"We had an idea of what we were going into," said Nauyuq.

After a meal, a briefing and quick introductions to various Iqaluit emergency personnel, they headed to the scene along Queen Elizabeth Way. They rotated positions on one of the hoses from mid-afternoon through mid-evening, spraying high-pressure water on visible flames as an excavator was peeling away debris from the warehouse.

"By the time we got there, most of the big fire was already out," said Nauyuq. "We often said amongst each other that Iqaluit firefighters did an amazing job in putting out that pretty big fire... they were able to save the store."

Cape Dorset's fire crew took over during the night.

After some rest, Nauyuq returned to the scene to monitor hot-spots.

'Very grateful'

Nelson Johnson, Iqaluit's acting director of emergency and protective services, was in command of the scene, guiding the 15 other members of his force and then providing direction to the 14 visiting firefighters as well as another five helping hands through the Office of the Fire Marshal.

Johnson noted that his department not only "did an excellent job" of containing the NorthMart warehouse fire, but also responded to five other emergency calls throughout the city as vehicle fires and a garbage can burned that night.

"We were very grateful to receive help from Cape Dorset and Pangnirtung. This allowed the Iqaluit Fire Department to rest their members and to provide coverage for the rest of the city," Johnson stated. "We are grateful and proud of the territory of Nunavut and thankful for the volunteers that came to assist us. They will always be welcome at our fire house."

Iqaluit's firefighters were "good role models," said Nauyuq. Nunavut Emergency Management's staff was top-notch and "they looked after us really, really well," he added.

Etidloi Adla, one of the Cape Dorset volunteers who travelled to Iqaluit, said he was impressed by the coordination during the ordeal.

"Their chief handled the whole situation perfectly," said Adla. "I can't say enough about those guys."

For Nauyuq, who's in his early 30s and only joined the Pangnirtung Fire Department in March, he'd never had any experience tackling a blaze in such a large building.

"I'm fairly new," he said, adding that he became inspired to join the fire brigade after getting extremely sick and being admitted to the hospital in Iqaluit. "There were some regrets, and one of them was, am I too late to become a volunteer firefighter?"

Following the NorthMart fire, the volunteers received a certificate of appreciation from Nunavut Emergency Management and lots of praise via social media.

"Our expectations are not so much to receive thank yous, but to have a community and a department that's able to provide a service to the community... (and) other communities," Nauyuq said. "One day we may find ourselves in the same situation here in Pang and we may request assistance."

Eight members of the Pangnirtung Fire Department volunteered to help out in Iqaluit during the NorthMart warehouse fire in November. The Pangnirtung department comprises, front row, from left, Andy Akulukjuk, Robert Mike, Mathew Nauyuq, Silas Nauyuq, Joanasie Dialla, Justin Nakashook and Fire Chief Josephie Nakashuk. Back row, from left, Lisa Ishulutaq, Josephie Qiyuktaq, Daniel Nakashuk, Joseph Dialla, Aiden Metuq, Daniel Evic and Jane Nakashuk. photo courtesy of the Pangnirtung Fire Department