A step in the right direction—that’s how Yukon Fire Marshal Devin Bailey characterized a new service model for unincorporated Yukon communities. The model offers levels of service to unincorporated communities that can’t maintain an operational volunteer fire department.
The news was announced by the Yukon government on July 27. It comes three years after a 2021 review of the Yukon Fire Marshal’s Office. Bailey says a number of recommendations came out of the review. Most were around internal policy and procurement. One was to take a different approach to structural firefighting throughout the territory.
“The deputy fire marshals and myself all kind of got together, put our heads down,” Bailey said over the phone on Aug. 8. “And we realized that to maximize sustainability and success, fire services must be community-based, community-driven and community-supported. So we started to design a levels of service program that met the needs of the community. We wanted to match programs based on the capacity that communities have.”
That led to the two recently-announced options—a Fire Safety Champion program and a Scene Safety Response Unit program.
Bailey said a community needs at least eight volunteer firefighters to attain the third level of service, a fire department. This typically ensures that at least four firefighters will be able to respond to a call. That’s the minimum number required to safely operate equipment.
Since 2022, Scene Safety Response units have launched in Old Crow, Pelly Crossing, Keno, Ross River and Destruction Bay. All were communities that had fire services in the past. Over the years, however, numbers dropped to a point where a department was no longer viable. Bailey said all five communities were eager to launch these new programs.
He said the Fire Safety Champion program only requires one person in the community to participate. That person agrees to hand out information about prevention of structure fires, distribute smoke detectors and host community barbecues. They also agree to act as a point of contact for the Fire Marshal’s Office, which relays information through them.
“(The Fire Safety Champion program) was actually pretty instrumental in places like Keno and Pelly to help recruit people for the Scene Safety Response Unit program,” said Bailey. That’s the goal. “Each program and level is designed to sort of build off the other. So the fire safety champion gives us presence in the community and a foothold in the community. And then we’ll support that fire safety champion to help recruit and just explain what the expectation of fire response can be in our community.”
Support from Bailey’s office can include equipment, training and administrative assistance.
“The goal, ideally, would be to have a fire department in every community,” Bailey said. “But without the human resources available to safely operate, and without the knowledge to operate the apparatus and fight structure fires, this is the right direction.”
Bailey says his office is currently working with Upper Liard, Champagne Aishihik, Beaver Creek and Mendenhall on establishing some level of service in each of those communities as well.
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org