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First Nation development corporation eyes fire training as business opportunity

Da Daghay Development Corp. wants to privatize training by 2019
Jordan Profeit, left, and Jesse Latoski load up a helicopter outside the Charlie Crew base in Whitehorse before leaving on a patrol in 2015. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

The Ta’an Kwäch’än Council’s Da Daghay Development Corporation wants the Yukon to privatize training for wildland firefighters in the territory.

Ben Asquith, the development corporation’s CEO says territorial bureaucracy has so far kept the corporation from expanding.

Da Daghay plans to send some of its staff Outside for specialized training on how to administer nationally-certified fire training courses. The hope is to convince the Yukon government to hand over the reins for all wildland fire training next year, he said.

“At the beginning of the season, Yukon government, the management, is trying to focus on getting ready for the fire season,” Asquith said. “What we can do is help them by offering this training so that they don’t really have to worry about it at that point. They can worry about the logistical side.”

There are approximately 85 wildland fire fighters in the territory, said Mike Etches, the Yukon’s director of wildland fire.

Thirteen of the territory’s First Nations have contracts to provide four-person crews to fight fires. The remaining firefighters are employees of the Department of Community Services.

Each year returning firefighters need to re-certify and newcomers have to take their own set of courses.

The Da Daghay Development Corporation has been training firefighters in some re-certification courses for about five years.

For the last two years the corporation has been running the Beat the Heat bootcamp. The bootcamp gives prospective firefighters a chance to learn more about the job. Representatives from multiple First Nations also administer some of the courses returning firefighters need to take to order to be re-certified each year.

“I think the results speak for themselves,” Asquith said. “Last year YG hired nine out of our bootcamp.”

Even after the bootcamp both new and returning firefighters have to take additional courses with the Yukon government.

In other jurisdictions across Canada, third-party trainers are brought in to train firefighters, Asquith said. In the Yukon, most of the Yukon government trainers are Yukon government employees.

Asquith doesn’t have a breakdown of how much a private training service would cost but he’s convinced that giving control over to Da Daghay would save the government money.

“Bottom line, if you look at the true cost of what it would cost Yukon government with all their employees doing … that training, including equipment, time, renting out a location and all that,” Asquith said, Da Daghay is able to do it all “more efficiently and effectively.”

He said the corporation is not looking to take away jobs.

“We’re looking at this as a growth industry.”

Asquith said handing over all the training to a First Nation development corporation is in line with Yukon Liberal government promises.

“We have the premier saying, ‘we’re in the business of getting out of business.’ So our pitch is let us help you do that,” he said.

“We’ve proven to you that this is a successful model, this hits home with exactly what’s in the mandate letters — providing jobs in the communities, healthy jobs in the communities. It will save taxpayer money, bottom line.”

Asquith said currently, the Yukon government won’t allow the development corporation to offer more courses “because Yukon government wants that control and they want to keep that in house.”

“Basically that’s why we’re going out, outside the territory, to get that actual formal stamp from a nationally recognized organization.”

Etches said it’s not about control. He said training wildland firefighters is done “in collaboration” with Yukon First Nations.

Yukon government helps out at the Beat the Heat bootcamp and a representative from Da Daghay Development Corporation helps with one of the Yukon government’s courses, he said.

“It’s a big job and at this point we do it collaboratively and that’s been a good model for us.”

Etches said the Yukon government doesn’t certify individual trainers. “We certify the actual end product, the crew members, the crew leaders, we don’t certify the instructors per se. We follow national training standards.”

Etches said the government has to make sure that national standards are being followed.

“That (way), we can say as an employer, an exporter of resources, that everyone meets those certification.”

For one course last year the government had 15 instructors offering different classes, he said.

Asquith estimates the development corporation is going to get about four staff members trained to be trainers.

“From the Yukon government’s perspective, we don’t talk about privatization of a government responsibility,” Etches said. “But as a collaborator, we’re doing it now, we’re working together to train our staff and to make them really good firefighters.”

For his part, Community Services Minister John Streicker said he needs to know more about what the development corporation is proposing.

“If they’re interested in doing more then I’m happy to sit down and have that conversation with them about that.”

In the meantime the development corporation plans to expand in other ways.

Da Daghay has 20 employees trained as firefighters who will sometimes get sent out to help other First Nations fulfill their contracts.

This summer the development corporation plans to apply for firefighting contracts outside of the territory.

“They could be a strike force team leader, they could be a squad boss, they could be a crew leader, they could be a crew member, they could be a whole bunch of different things,” Asquith said.

“You could send them out as an individuals, you could send them out in teams of three, teams of four…. You can send those guys out across North America.”

The corporation also plans to start a new “reserves” program. The program, scheduled to start this summer, will offer a chance to get some firefighting training to become firefighters who don’t work on the front lines of active blazes.

Reserves will also work on other activties around the community, Asquith said.

“They’re going to be doing community-based projects during that time. We’re trying to give them life skills. We want to incorporate entrprenurship.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at